Mice aren’t nice when they move in with you

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
“Hickory, dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock…”

* * *

A mouse running up a clock or across a kitchen floor can be a disarming problem in a home.

“The mice are horrible this year,” said Laurie Koslowsky who works at Hillsboro True Value Hardware.

The Koslowskys recently moved to the outskirts of Hillsboro. They never had mice at their previous residence, she said.

“Now, we have lots of them. We’ve had a couple get into the basement and one on the main floor. And that was just awful.”

* * *

When Mickey Mouse started his career he was a fresh and bratty kid in “Steamboat Willie,” but these days, he’s considered shy and charming.

* * *

The cartoon character, developed by Walt Disney, changed from his early days, even as today’s mice have evolved from the first rodent created by Mother Nature.

“There are many, many species of rodents,” said Max Terman, biology professor at Tabor College.

The mice found in the rural areas of Hillsboro are the deer mice, Terman said.

“It’s the ‘genus peromyscus,’ and there are a number of different kinds of those.”

The house mouse, who is a city cousin to the rural mouse, belongs to the “genus mus musculus.”

The deer mice are native mice, Terman said.

“When they get to be high-population numbers, they will come into the home, too.”

The house mouse is considered one of the most troublesome rodents in the United States, according to the Cooperative Extension Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska.

House mice thrive under a variety of conditions. They consume and contaminate food meant for humans and other animals. They also cause damage to structures and property and transmit diseases.

The house mouse is a small rodent with relatively large ears and small black eyes. It can typically weigh about 1/2 ounce and is usually light gray.

* * *

“Three blind mice, three blind mice. See how they run, see how they run…”

* * *

An adult mouse is about 5 1/2 inches to 7 1/2 inches long, including a three- to four-inch tail.

“Droppings, fresh gnaw marks and tracks indicate areas where mice are active,” according to the cooperative extension.

“House mice have a characteristic musky odor that identifies their presence in an area. Mice are most active at night, but occasionally they can be seen during the daylight hours.”

Nature has equipped the little critters with a keen sense of hearing, smell, taste and touch. And they have no problem climbing.

A female mouse can have five to 10 litters in a year. Each litter can have as many as six young-adding up to 60 potential mice from one female in a single year.

“The problem is, there are a lot of mice out there because of lesser numbers of predators, especially snakes,” Terman said.

* * *

“They all ran after the farmer’s wife, who cut off their tail with a carving knife…”

* * *

The mice found in outbuildings and barns in rural areas can range in size from 4 3/4 inches to 8 1/4 inches long. Their tails can measure about one half of their body length.

An adult deer mouse is usually colored tan or brown and has a white underbelly and throat. It has large, rounded and almost hairless ears. And it sees the world through eyes that are also large and bulging.

Deer mice typically bear their young between March and November. A litter can include from two to seven young, and a female can have four litters a year-making the total come to as many as 32 mice per female in a year.

They can live up to two years in the wild.

Deer mice have been known to carry the haunta virus-an air-born virus spread by the urine and droppings of infected rodents.

“It’s a virus that shows up with increasing numbers of mice (populations) and usually after periods of above-average rainfall,” Terman said.

A human can become infected by inhaling the virus, but the disease can also be spread by a bite from an infected mouse.

* * *

In 1984, the computer mouse broke onto the public stage with the introduction of the Apple Macintosh.

* * *

The most widely used computer mouse is attached by its tail and is forever trapped.

But to trap the house mouse or deer mouse, several products have appeared on the scene since the original wood-based snap trap with its trigger and spring mechanism.

Traps found at The Lumberyard and Hillsboro True Value stores offer a variety of options for those who have problems with mice in their homes or in rural structures.

The standard mouse trap is locally available with two traps in one package.

Matt Kukuk, with The Lumberyard, said he suggests customers use peanut butter for bait instead of the traditional chunk of cheese.

“Cheese is a high maintenance item, and it’s going to decompose and give off bad odors,” Kukuk said. “Peanut butter, once it’s on, it seems to attract more mice than cheese.”

A newer mouse-trap version on the market these days uses the same principle as the old trap, but it’s reusable.

“They have a spring, and when you push that, the mouse is released,” Koslowsky said. “It kills them, but you don’t have to handle the mouse.”

* * *

Dictionary definition of mousy: “Timid and retiring.”

* * *

But Laurie Koslowsky is far from being mousy about the rodents in her house.

“I want them trapped and gone,” she said.

One of the methods she said she prefers is a sticky trap.

“They’re called a spider and cricket trap-the glue trap,” Koslowsky said.

A prepared sticky strip of paper is laid down in an area where mice have been spotted. When the mouse runs across the surface, he’s stuck on the paper.

“We’ve even gotten wolf spiders trapped on them,” Koslowsky said. “And mice, this is what we’ve gotten all our mice with-they work really, really good.”

Both stores offer another alternative that Koslowsky and Kukuk agreed is considered a more compassionate way to prevent mouse problems.

It’s an electronic pest repeller, and the device is plugged into an electrical outlet.

“It’s the most expensive, but it’s the most humane way to get rid of any pests,” Kukuk said.

“It’s a high frequency electronic device that doesn’t involve trapping them. It just makes the environment unpleasant for them to stay. They’ll move on and live outside.”

Koslowsky said she recommends a brand in her store that is ultrasonic and electromagnetic.

“We also have this at home. And since we put it on our basement-that was the end of September-we have not had a mouse in the basement.”

Kukuk said the brand he carries offers two sizes, depending on the amount of area to be covered.

One size will cover up to 700 square feet of space, and the other will cover 1,100 square feet.

Opinions differ about the effectiveness of the electronic devices. Some of the literature suggests mice become accustomed to regularly repeated sounds, the sounds don’t penetrate behind objects, and the devices lose their intensity with distance.

But Koslowsky and Kukuk have had success with the instrument, they said.

When asked why they might not work for some homeowners, Kukuk said he could think of three possible reasons.

Because the devices are on a radio signal, they can be affected by other electronic equipment in the house.

“It may also be a better application to put a smaller unit in two or three rooms than try to cover a larger area with one unit,” Kukuk said.

And he also suggested the unit be checked to see how old it is.

“As these age, they will lose some effectiveness,” he said. “If it’s upwards of two years old, I would recommend replacing it.”

* * *

The Tom and Jerry cartoon series was a huge success, earning Hanna & Barbara seven Academy Awards among about 200 cartoons created.

* * *

Even though Jerry, the mouse, always lived to see another day, cats are known to be successful in catching mice.

Just how successful are they?

“Although cats, dogs and other predators may kill mice, they do not provide effective mouse control in most circumstances,” according to the cooperative extension.

“Mice often live in very close association with dogs and cats. Mouse problems around homes often are related to the food, water and shelter provided for the pet.”

In rural areas, packets of poisonous bait are popular mouse control, according to Koslowsky and Kukuk.

Available at both stores, the packets come in small 1 1/2 ounce bags or trays. And at The Lumberyard, they are also available in large one-pound bags. The bags can be placed in a problem area, and the mice gnaw through the packaging and eat the bait.

The packets read: “Mice may consume a lethal dose in one feeding-with the first dead rodents appearing four or five days after feeding begins.”

A lot of people, especially out in the country where they have sheds and barns, use the packets because they don’t care if the mouse “goes off and dies in a corner somewhere,” Kukuk said.

“The ingredients are basically a blood thinner. The animal will eat it, and it thins the blood until (the mouse dies).”

* * *

“Here I come to save the day.” That means that Mighty Mouse is on his way.

* * *

Does the mouse deserve a negative reputation?

Those who own them as pets and use them as laboratory animals can argue their value.

“The deer mouse is a native species and part of the eco system that’s been here for eons,” Terman said.

“All species have a niche where they process food items and become prey for animals-become food themselves. So there’s an energy flow and cycling of nutrients through the eco system.”

Even Aesop’s fables chronicled the value of a mouse.

A lion was disturbed by a mouse and was about to kill him, but the mouse begged for his life and promised to repay his kindness. Later, the mouse was able to help the lion by gnawing through ropes hunters had used to bind the great beast.

* * *

“You ridiculed the idea of my ever being able to help you, of expecting to receive from me any repayment of your favor,” the mouse said. “Now you know it is possible for even a mouse to bestow benefits on a lion.”

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