This is no longer just a game of cat and mouse.
The mouse is in the house, and the cat isn’t earning her keep. While I appreciate my feline’s finesse in catching mice, I am not crazy about her choice of where to leave them. Luna (the cat) will receive no trophy for fetching and depositing a live mouse on my bed in the middle of the night. Eek, says I, and squeak, said the mouse.
My latest wildlife encounters have been in the comfort of my own home. Unfortunately, these have not been harmless. While I am still strong in body, one of my kitchen appliances can’t say the same. The stove was the victim, after a family of mice nested in the interior insulation. It was home sweet home until I turned up the heat, innocently enough, to bake bread. The mice got out, but the stove was a total loss due to the wire-chomping, nest-building rodents. Ask any Island mechanic, and they can probably tell you similar stories of mice setting up housekeeping in vehicles parked for any length of time.
The mice in question are not your average house mouse variety. In fact, it is not any house mouse at all, since that species isn’t found on the Vineyard. My mousy friends are white-footed mice.
For those who aren’t familiar with this species, Mason Walton, the Hermit of Gloucester, charmingly described these mammals in 1903: “The white-footed mouse, unlike the house mouse, is a handsome fellow. He sports a chestnut coat, a white vest, reddish brown trousers, and white stockings.” While Mason appreciated them to a point, he further acknowledged, “A few mice for company on winter evenings would not be objectionable, but I draw the line when I am forced to eat and sleep with them.” I can agree, from experience.
In winter, white-footed mice seek to cohabitate innocently enough with humans, since the average house is warm, cozy and full of food. A mouse’s life is simply too short — only a year or so — not to seek out superior living quarters. But I concur with Mason, no mice roommates for me. My reasoning is more tied to health. White-footed mice can carry the Hanta virus and also are a reservoir for Borrelia burgdoorferi, the spirochete that causes Lyme disease.
White-footed mice do well enough outside, so I won’t feel guilty about showing them the door. It is impressive that they thrive this time of year, especially considering the deep cold that we have been having. It is hard to imagine how a 20-gram animal stays warm enough.
Mice rest during the day — building nests, huddling, and going into a daily torpor to maintain their body heat. During the even colder nights, these mice increase their metabolism by creating red blood cells with high hemoglobin content. They also shiver and, as I found out, adapt by finding a nice comfortable warm place in our houses, barns, sheds and any other shelter where they can to pass the evening.
Don’t feel sorry for me with my pest infestation; after all, I do live at a nature sanctuary, so I could never be considered poor as a church mouse in location or surroundings. But I will not go quietly into the night when there is a mouse in sight. And no matter that the cat’s not away, the mice do seem to continue to play. So I will continue to encourage them to just go away.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.