01 Jul 2022

Wild About Wildlife: A visit from the Christmas mouse

Wild About Wildlife: A visit  from the Christmas mouse

In early winter, mice like to squat in your homes and businesses to escape the cold and find somewhere warm, with lots of food, to see through the cold times ahead

I WAS visiting a close friend as I like to get my traveling done early in December and that means I can relax for the rest of the year. She lives in town and there was no parking anywhere near her house. I eventually found a spot in a car park and went to get a ticket.
Only after I had paid a man who had been watching me informed that parking was free for the month of December. This piece of useful information was imparted too late but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
My friend’s house is down an alleyway and her garden is no bigger than a modern bathroom. She loves nature and puts out food every day for the birds. Today she had put out the remains of a rice dinner and she kept looking out the window as if she was expecting someone. She explained that every day a mouse appeared for a little feed and it provided great entertainment.
I was intrigued and took a seat near the window. Sure enough after a few minutes we spotted a small creature running over the flower pot towards the food. It was incredibly bold and tame and well used to being fed. I blinked a few times as I watched the mouse and knew straight away that her welcome visitor was indeed a rat.
Its tail was far shorter than its body and its ears were very small. A mouse tail is as long as its body and its ears are a lot more prominent on its head. I felt obliged to explain that the mouse was not as it appeared to be and my friend betrayed very little reaction at the news. Perhaps deep down her knew the truth already, but long term social isolation meant that any distraction or company was welcome.
There was half mention of a trap but as I watched I had to admit it was interesting behaviour. Its hands and feet were very pink and it was incredible nimble. I remember watching a nature show years ago where they put food high up on a post and set up a camera.
Each night they attached string with different levels of tension from the top of the post to the ground. The rat had no problem scaling this dangling and moving line and used its tail to retain its balance. It also hung upside off the wire like a solider completing an obstacle course.
The rat at my friend’s house would eat for a few seconds and then sprint back into the cavity of the old stone wall. This natural home was located behind a loose stone and makes a dry, secure and predator proof home. It does not pay for any small mammal to feed out in the open for too long, as there are plenty of if hungry cats prowling around in the dark alleys.
They were building up a larder or feeding young. With a good supply of food rats can breed all year round and a mature female can have up to 7 litters each year. Each litter can have up to 12 pups. Rats can reach sexual maturity very quickly, as little as three months and have around 84 offspring in their first breeding year.
Most of these don’t survive due to predation by cats and they are also on the diet of barn owls. This bird has move of an effect on farms while the rise in urban fox populations is good news for keeping rats under control.
After a few minutes I noticed that there was two different sizes and that one had far darker ears. Next I spotted one on the ground making a grand total of three.
Our interactions and relationships with the natural world are rarely straight forward and boring.

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