Among the 40 percent of rodents existing in the mammal’s population, mice take a considerable percentage. According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, whose researchers have been doing extensive research on desert animals for many years, mice are one of the most successful mammals to exist on this planet.
Mice are highly adaptable rodents that can survive almost all kinds of temperature and environment. You can find a lot of their species living in desert climates as well. In this article, you will learn about all different types of desert mice present in the United States.
How Do Mice Survive In Desert Climates?
Before we get into the details, let’s clear out the first question that comes to mind when you hear about the desert mice – how do they survive in such a harsh climate?
Unlike the mice usually found in the residential and commercial areas in the city, the desert mice habituate around the drab and scorched regions. These mice are nocturnal creatures by nature, which helps them avoid the relentless desert heat during the daytime.
After spending their time in cool spaces like underground burrows and shrubs in the daylight, they leave their nests at night to find their food sources. Their sandy-colored fur also helps them camouflage with the desert sand, protecting them from the predators to a certain extent.
What Mice Live In the Desert?
Although there are several kinds of desert mice found around the world, there are three species that are currently located in the United States particularly. These include:
- Kangaroo mouse
- Pocket mouse
- Grasshopper mouse
Let’s talk about each of these rodents individually:
1. Kangaroo Mouse
The kangaroo mouse (Microdipodopsmegacephalus) belongs to the family of Heteromyids. As the name suggests, these mice move around the ground through leaps and bounds, using their tails for balancing the jumps. They can jump up to nine feet when escaping their predators.
These mice have bodies that are three inches long at most, their tails are also the same size in length, and they weigh approximately fifteen grams.
The kangaroo mice are divided into two types, appearance-wise. The first type is commonly known as the dark kangaroo mice because of their dark-tinted upper body. The other type is the pale kangaroo mice, as they have creamy buff on their bodies. No matter which type these mice are, they all prefer to live in valley bottoms in the deserts near California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah.
According to the red list provided by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the population of kangaroo mice has been decreasing each year. However, they still pose agricultural and aquaculture threats along with some problematic diseases to humans with their presence.
The kangaroo mouse typically eats seeds from a variety of desert plants and grasses. They can also satisfy their hunger with small insects and green vegetation when seeds are not readily available. These rodents don’t require water for an extended period, making their desert lifestyle easy to maintain. An interesting thing about these mice is that they have fur-lined external cheek pouches to store their food while traveling.
2. Pocket Mouse
The pocket mouse (Chaetodipuspenicillatus) also belongs to the Heteromyidae family. These mice are native to North America and commonly found in the United States and Mexico deserts.
Pocket mice are named that because of their small build. There are five significant types of these mice that are further divided into various categories:
Silky Pocket Mice (genus Perognathus)
These mice have nine distinct species. They are mostly two to four inches in length and have hairy tails usually three to four inches long. These mice have sandy yellow upper bodies with hairy soles, unlike any other pocket mice.
As described by its name, these mice have silky textured hair all over their body.
Coarse-Haired Pocket Mice (genus Chaetodipus)
The coarse-haired pocket mice include fifteen different species. Except for the forest spiny pocket mice, these species are relatively bigger than others. With a body of about five inches, these rodents mostly weigh between thirty to fifty grams.
Although these mice have the same color patterns as silky pocket mice, they have harsh and coarse hair on their bodies.
Spiny Pocket Mice (genus Liomys)
The spiny pocket mice consist of five species. These rodents usually prefer to live in the rocky habitats with dry bushes. They have a body length of between four to five inches and an even longer tail of about six inches long.
These mice are called ‘spiny’ because of their rough and spiny fur made of stringent, bristly hair.
Forest Spiny Pocket Mice (genus Heteromys)
These rodents are further grouped into seven species. The forest spiny pocket mice are significantly the largest of all pocket mice with their length of four to seven inches. Because of their larger size, they also weigh heavier, between forty to ninety grams.
These mice mostly live from sea level upwards mountains. Like the ordinary spiny pocket mice, these also have rough fur on their bodies because of the stiff bristles.
Merriam’s Pocket Mouse (Perognathus)
Merriam’s pocket mouse (Perognathusmerriami) is usually found in the Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico regions. These mice prefer living in deserted areas with bushes, scrubs, and shrublands.
The Merriam’s mice have an average weight of eight to ten-gram and body length of about four inches normally. These mice are silky smooth with sand and black colored furs.
Generally, the pocket mice’s diet mainly consists of plant seeds, nuts, and succulent plant’s parts. Like kangaroo mice, they also have cheek pouches to carry the food safely to their nest.
3. Grasshopper Mouse
The grasshopper mouse (Onychomys), despite its name, cannot actually hop like a grasshopper. These mice may skip and jump from time-to-time. However, they prefer to use all four legs when traveling from one place to another.
The deserts are home to several venomous animals, which does not make it easy for rodents like mice to live there. However, an interesting fact about the grasshopper mice is that they are entirely immune to venom and pain. These creatures are exceptionally resilient and territorial, and they show their arrogant side by standing on their hind legs and howling like a miniature wolf.
The grasshopper mice have an unusual way of approaching their prey. When these mice get near their target, they close their eyes and use their paws and whiskers to detect the exact location.
These mice have an extensive diet, consisting of insects like grasshoppers, lizards, centipedes, and some bigger animals, including scorpions, and even mice. These mice can safely eat the deadly scorpions because they have the ability to convert the inflicted venom into a painkiller.
Now that you know what mice live in deserts and what their characteristics are let’s find out about some of their desert predators.
Which Animals Are Desert Mouse Predators?
Although the desert mice are nocturnal animals and stay out of daylight, they still get out of their nest sometimes when needed. Because of their small sizes, these mice are often targeted by several predators. Some of the major threats include the horned rattlesnake, the common barn owl (TytoAlba), and the horned owl.
The desert mice usually protect themselves by hiding into the shrubs. The mice that can jump like kangaroo mice defend themselves by confusing their predators using their hopping abilities.
Are There Health Dangers From the Desert Mice?
If exposed to human beings, the mice mentioned above can inflict some serious diseases. The desert mice carry several bacteria and viruses that can be transferred through their saliva, urine, and droppings.
The most common diseases caused by desert mice include hantavirus and salmonella. Both hantavirus and salmonella are spread from the droppings of desert mice, and both of them can endanger a perfectly healthy human’s life.
It is also possible to get affected by these infections and viruses when a person consumes a food that has been in contact with the desert mice.
What Are the Signs of Desert Mouse Infestation At Home?
Residential and commercial properties built in the United States’ desert areas also tend to become home-shelters for these mice in colder seasons. Once they get into your home or workplace, they will invade your food pantry to store their food supply for the winters.
Some specific signs indicate a desert mice infestation, such as:
- Scurrying and scratching sounds
- Scratch marks on the cabinets or where food items are stored
- Mouse dropping
You will mostly hear their activities in the nighttime as these are nocturnal animals that prefer dark environments when hunting for food.
How to Get Rid of Desert Mice
Here is how you can get rid of desert mice using simple techniques:
- You can keep the desert mice out by sealing all holes and cracks on the foundation.
- Another vital thing to do is to clean your property from all food crumbs.
- It will also help if you remove food sources by packing them in airtight containers.