Editorial: Season of the mouse

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Mickey, Minnie, Stuart. SNAP. Mighty, Speedy, Jerry, SNAP. Fievel, Roquefort, Danger. SNAP!

Sure, mice are cute. Furry, fuzzy and tiny, with shiny black noses. They make great cartoon characters. But as house guests, house mice (Mus musculus), are an unsanitary nuisance that one way or another have to go. Goodnight moon, goodnight little mouse.

Fall is when city mice, happy to live in the yard or nearby woods and fields, move indoors for winter. Frost came late to central New Hampshire this year and so did the annual mouse migration.

When mice move, they move en masse. The old adage “if you see one mouse, you have a dozen” is true. Mice can begin breeding at 6 or 8 – that’s weeks, not months or years – and each female can have up to 10 litters of five or six young over a lifetime that lasts about a year. That makes for a lot of mice and, if nothing is done, for that dreaded term: infestation.

Admitting to a mouse problem is akin to admitting that one’s kids have lice or that there are cockroaches in the kitchen; however, all three can happen in the best of households. Even compulsive cleanliness can fail to provide complete protection. A mouse can squeeze through any opening its head fits into, which means a hole the diameter of a dime.

The invaded house, though not all that old by New Hampshire standards – the Richard Jackson House in Portsmouth dates to 1664 – was built before the Civil War. Its cellar walls are formed from huge granite blocks from a nearby quarry. The same blocks serve as the footings for the kitchen ell and barn. They rise and fall with each freeze and thaw, which makes for cracks that come and go. Keeping mice out is impossible.

The house mouse-human relationship, called commensalism by scientists, apparently began when hunter-gatherers started settling down, growing crops and staying in the same place for long periods. Mice love the grains humans store for winter.

House mice can carry bacteria and viruses that infect humans, including some that can be serious and deadly. They must be dispatched, but forgo poison and glue traps. The former can sicken or kill pets, as well as hawks, owls, foxes and other wildlife that dine on mice, and the latter are cruel. Catch-and-release traps are humane, but mice have excellent homing instincts, so they must be released at least a half-mile away or they will return. Release them in the wild and they aren’t likely to survive. Release them near homes and they’ll invade them. That leaves snap traps.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing rubber or latex gloves to handle rodent traps, the liberal use of disinfectants of contaminated areas, and the double-bagging and quick disposal of deceased mice and rats. Caution is always advisable, but deaths attributed to mice, despite their numbers, are rare.

Minimize mouse problems by sealing openings with steel wool and caulk, store grains and other foodstuffs in metal canisters and glass jars, and keep all surfaces clean and free of crumbs and other mouse food. Yet rare is the building that is completely mouse-proof.

And so on it goes, Jaq, Gus and Doormouse. SNAP!