Did you read the article I wrote back in January, all about the house mouse? In it I looked at the relationship we have with these creatures – how they’ve used us and how we’ve used them. They’ve been our companions (welcome, or not) for a long time, but how long exactly? According to new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently, we can now date the start of the mouse/human relationship. It all began 15,000 years ago.
Mice like to eat cereals so, when they come across a store of them, of course they want to exploit such a find. This being the case, it was presumed that mice started to live alongside us humans around the same time that we became farmers and stored our harvests. However, it seems that mice came to us even before the invention of agriculture.
In the tens of thousands of years since Homo sapiens’ arrival on the planet, we had been nomadic hunter-gatherers. That means that we spent our lives moving from place to place in search of our next meal. We first planted, tended and harvested crops around 11,000 years ago and civilisation began. But this change didn’t happen overnight.
Around 15,000 years ago humans living in the Middle-East had started to domesticate animals. Rather than having to find and hunt dinner, they found it easier to keep livestock and kill it as and when needed. This meant they no longer had to be nomadic. Instead, they settled down in one place and lived off their herds. Of course, to supplement their diet of meat, they still went foraging for fruit, vegetable and grains. These they brought back home and stored, ready for later consumption. And that’s where the mouse comes in.
Coming across a hoard of food was an opportunity not to be missed for the mouse. Added to that, the food came with shelter and warmth (the first houses) and few predators (man’s relationship with cats had not yet begun – in fact, it probably came about as a response to the mouse’s appearance).
Since then, wherever mankind has gone, the mouse has followed. They have accompanied us as we spread all over the globe – and even into space. They are not only ‘pests’ but also pets and laboratory animals. Yes, they have used us for their advantage by taking our food and using our homes as shelters, but it’s a two-way street – we have used them too, and (in my opinion) in a much harsher way.
By the way, if you want to know more of mice and men then take a look at our English Literature section – you’ll see why when you get there! But if you are more interested in worms than in books, perhaps you’d prefer our Nature quizzes. We have hundreds of questions to test your knowledge of plants, animals and all other aspects of nature. Why not take a look?