What Do Mice Eat?

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What do mice eat? Truthfully, mice will eat just about anything they can. Mice are omnivorous, so they will eat both plants and meat. The preferred meals of mice are grains, seeds, and fruit. Yet they are opportunistic, so they will eat whatever they can, including insects. Let’s examine both the eating behavior of mice and some general information about mice in more detail.

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General Facts About Mice

Mice are mammals of the order Rodentia, rodents. They are rather small, have roundish, furry bodies and have long tails. Mice are some of the most common mammals on Earth, with hundreds of different subtypes of mice found throughout the world. Families of mice are typically categorized in either New World or old world groups. Some of the most common types of mice include the field mouse, the wood mouse, deer mouse, house mouse, and dormouse. It’s important to note that while many people referred colloquially to mice and rats as the same creature, they are distinct animals with different features.

Most mice are gray, brown, or white. However, there are rarer colors from mice including black and silver. While all mice are relatively small in comparison to humans, they can range in size quite a bit. Some mice are extremely small (about the size of the house key) while others can be approximately the size of a baked potato. Adult mice average approximately seven and half inches in length, which includes their tail. One of the ways to distinguish mice from rats is that rats are much larger than mice, with rats averaging approximately 14 to 16 inches in length.

Mice can live in a wide variety of environments and ecosystems. They are adaptable animals that can fill out niches in man-made environments such as houses and barns, as well as grasslands, forests, and even deserts. For instance, the brown desert mouse is endemic to Australia, while the desert pocket mouse can be found in the southwestern United States. Mice usually make their homes underground if they live in nature, as their burrows protect them from most predators. Predators of mice include foxes, wild dogs, birds, cats, and snakes.

Mice are mainly nocturnal, preferring to forage for food at night. Mice have a timid nature and will avoid most other animals, including humans, though with other mice they are actually quite social. Domesticated mice, on the other hand, have a friendly disposition and make good pets.

Mice Nesting And Reproduction

Some people erroneously think that mice are capable of eating things like paper, wire linings, cardboard, and insulation. Yet mice don’t need these substances, rather they are chewing them off and taking them back to an area to construct a nest out of them. Female mice will make their nests out of whatever is handy in the immediate area. At approximately 4 to 7 weeks of age, the females of the species will go off to mate. After breeding, mice have a gestational period of approximately 19 to 21 days long. After this three-week period, a litter of mice pups will be born, typically 4 to 1 dozen in size. Mice are capable of having litters every three weeks or so, so they can quickly reproduce and populations can boom rather swiftly as long as there is enough food to sustain them. Female mice are referred to as does, while male mice are referred to as bucks.

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Wild mice usually only live between one year to 2 1/2 years, though domesticated species of mice can live around six years. Mice are capable of sensing minute changes in the environment through their whiskers, able to detect changes in terrain as well as changes in temperature. When mice communicate with each other, they make regular noises as well as ultrasonic noises. Mice are relatively good swimmers, and also possess a talent for climbing. They are surprisingly good jumpers, with the ability to launch themselves an average of 18 inches into the air.

Controlling Mice In The Home

There are endless ways for mice to gain entry to homes. Mice are capable of slipping through gaps only around a quarter inch in size, which is approximately the size of a pencil. If a gap is not large enough, mice are capable of gnawing at the gap until it is large enough for them to slip through. It’s a good idea to seal any potential points of entry, such as roof vents and openings around pipes to prevent mice from getting in. Maintaining a clean environment, such as not leaving food out may also help.

Signs of mice include finding holes gnawed within piles of paper or insulation, stored food products, scraps of food found in out-of-the-way locations, piled nesting materials, skittering or scratching sounds, tiny hairs or mice droppings.

While rodenticides can be employed to control mice infestations, they are toxic and can be dangerous to pets and small children. Trapping is frequently the safest method for homeowners to employ, using traps to either kill the mice or contain them until the mouse can be released in another location.

What Mice Eat

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Mice have relatively high metabolisms and thus need to eat frequently. Mice usually eat around 15 to 20 times every day, so mice nests are usually built near areas that have easily accessible food.

Many people assume that mice eat mainly cheese, and while mice will eat cheese, they tend to favor seeds, grains, and fruits. Mice prefer foods which are high in carbohydrates. As mice are opportunistic omnivores, they will eat anything they can, which includes insects and even chocolate. Once again though, they prefer plant material and are largely herbivorous in nature.

During times of stress and starvation mice are even known to resort to cannibalistic behavior and eat other mice. Female mice, if not enough food is present, may consume their own young, while some mice are known to consume their own tails. This isn’t very common, and usually only happen when mice are stressed and dealing with low food availability.

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Opinions expressed are solely the authors and do not express the views or opinions of Science Trends nor the author's institution.
Cite this article as:
Daniel Nelson, MS. What Do Mice Eat?, Science Trends, 2018. Available at:
http://doi.org/10.31988/SciTrends.25111
*Note, DOIs are registered Friday weekly and therefore may not work until then.

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