Share it! Science : See it? Share it! The White-footed Mouse

See it? Share it! The White-footed Mouse

white-footed mouse deer mouse learning facts

I was out with my dog a few days ago and she began to wildly sniff one of our hydrangea bushes. The bush had many dried flowers and had caught a lot of deciduous tree leaves, so it was difficult to see what she might find so exciting. All of a sudden she jumped onto the bush, but it didn't support her weight, so she crashed down into it.

As this happened I spotted some movement. At first I thought it was a small bird. Then as it jumped from the bush onto the split rail fence behind I recognized the creature immediately as a white-footed mouse, or deer mouse. Luckily my pup was still fixated on the bush and I was able to observe for a few seconds before we left the animal alone.

White-footed mice are unmistakable with their two toned fur, brown on top and white on the belly and feet. They have bulgy shiny black button eyes and a long tail. Remembering seeing photographs of the white-footed mouse nesting in bird nests and other clumps of leaf and grass litter I wondered if it was possible that the mouse was nesting in the leaves that had been caught in the dense brittle branches of the hydrangea bush.

white-footed mouse deer mouse facts learn
image: NPS, Public Domain
Upon further research I learned many interesting and surprising things about this little mouse. The white-footed mouse is primarily nocturnal to avoid predators and only lives about a year in the wild. They are excellent climbers and swimmers! For some unknown reason, this mouse will drum on hollow reeds or a dry leaf with their front feet to produce a low buzzing noise. It is not understood why they do this!

mouse tracks in the snow
White-footed mouse tracks in the snow. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service- Northeast Region
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service- Northeast Region
Although I did not find out whether my hydrangea might be a good nesting spot, I did learn that they like to nest in warm and dry locations like hollow trees or abandoned bird nests. Although the mouse can carry disease through parasites like ticks that can harm humans, they have many positive attributes as well. The white-footed mouse eats and helps to spread the spores of many types of fungi. This helps the trees of the forest because the mycorrhizae, or filamentous roots of fungus, help trees to absorb nutrients. They can also help to control populations of insect pests, like the invasive gypsy moth.

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Two little treasures about the white-footed mouse:

Deer mouse at Old Farm Road is in the Smithsonian Backyard Series. These are mini-books written in a scientifically accurate way for kids. 
Deer Mouse at Old Farm Road Smithsonian Backyard books

Whitefoot: A Story From the Center of the World by environmental author Wendell Berry is another tiny book for children and adults.
Whitefoot story by Wendell Berry white-footed mouse

There is always more to find out when you look a little closer! What natural discoveries have you made recently? Share with us on Facebook, by e-mail or by commenting below.

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