Happy Valentine’s Day everybody!
While humans often celebrate the holiday with chocolates and flowers, I prefer a little something different – mice! Here in the Visitor Center, I get one or two mice every Monday depending on how big they are. My coworkers buy them frozen from the pet store and then thaw them for me. If I lived on my own out in the park, I would have to hunt for my mice, and most of them would probably be White-Footed Mice (Peromyscus leucopus).
These little mice are the most common mouse species in the park, and they are easy to identify with their little white feet and bellies. Their upper coats are reddish brown, and they have white chins instead of gray and white like deer mice. Their tails are relatively short in proportion to their bodies and are darker on top and lighter on the bottom. Their chins and tails help to separate them from the deer mouse, which is the other common mouse species that lives in the park!
These mice prefer wooded or shrubby areas, which coincidentally is where us corn snakes like to hang out too! They are mainly herbivores that eat seeds and nuts, but they sometimes eat insects, berries, and fungi too. Beetles and caterpillars are a particular favorite in the warmer months.
In addition to being yummy snake snacks, they have a very important job to do in nature! Their foraging helps spread seeds, nuts, and berries to new locations, helping plant species to move around. They also help mycorhizzal fungi spores. These fungi form symbiotic relationships with trees’ roots, which help the trees absorb nutrients and even communicate with each other. White-footed mice also help out with pest control by eating the larvae of harmful insects like gypsy moths!
If you happen to be out at night in a forested area, be sure to listen for a quiet musical buzzing – this is the mice drumming their front paws on hollow stems or dried leaves. Scientists aren’t sure why the mice have this behavior, but it is fun to listen to. And if you happen to hear a mouse in the park, be sure to let your friendly neighborhood corn snake know! 😉