By Susan Benson,
CNHM Director of Education
Last night I had a guest over for dinner. She spent several hours, not creating much quality conversation. She dined mostly on chocolate, one of my favorite foods. Normally, though, she loves cherries, as she always leaves large piles of seeds behind when she goes. She was not one to sit for long periods, preferring constant movement, just like a young child squirming in her chair. I know this guest well, as she has been a regular visitor to my home for many years. I am always struck by her lovely brown hair with her big, brown eyes. As we sat watching a movie after dinner, I smiled at the behaviors of my regular visitor, the white-footed mouse. As she scurried back and forth in my living room, she was perhaps a bit rude to not spend more time sharing with me what her actions were. I woke up this morning, still pondering what she was doing while visiting the house, with plans, I’m sure, of becoming a permanent resident.
White-footed mice can be recognized by their rich, reddish brown fur, with a white belly and feet, and a tail almost half its entire body length. These mice are primarily nocturnal, solitary and are territorial, though their home ranges do overlap. White-footed mice climb and swim well. I can agree with this, as last night’s visitor was on the second story of my home, and I have been surprised in the past by watching these daring travelers climb walls in what seems like a single leap.
At home in our homes, white-footed mice also build their nests elsewhere in hollow trees, stumps, brush piles, old squirrels’ or birds' nests. Their nests contain leaves, grass, feathers, shredded bark or moss, silky milkweed fluff, and cloth or paper. Once they have moved in to our human “hollow tree,” they seldom travel more than 160 feet from their comfortable, cozy quarters. They have amazing homing instincts. Captured mice that were let go two miles away have found their way back to their capture site. White-footed mice cache or store a winter supply of food in the fall near their nests.
Having found many white-footed mouse caches in my own home throughout the years, I often wondered or searched to identify the source of the seeds. These mouse caches help store food for winter use, and have been reported to contain several quarts of food. Some of the foods they prefer include acorns, maple seeds, pine seeds, black cherries, jewelweed, blueberries, violet seeds, curly dock, and beechnuts. Like squirrels, white-footed mice have cheek pouches in which they can transport food. In spring and summer they feed on fruit, beetles, snails, centipedes, moths, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, cocoons, and other insects. They occasionally eat small birds or mammals. They can feed on wood, bark, stems, fruit, and flowers. They also eat roots of plants and fungi. White-footed mice also help spread fungi by eating and eliminating the spores. This is important in aiding the ability of trees’ to take up nutrients with help of the "mycorrhizal" associations formed with these fungi. It is nice to know that in addition to the entertainment they provide in my home, they have such a beneficial relationship to trees.
The most interesting thing I found in researching this white-footed creature is a very distinctive behavior. White-footed mice, when sensing danger, will drum with their feet on a hollow reed, dry leaf or other resonating material, producing a prolonged musical buzzing. Perhaps my new quest should be to discover the drumming sound of the white-footed mouse. I actually searched online to see if I could find a recording. Although I failed in that search, I learned once again that there is something to appreciate in every one of the creatures in which we share our homes.
.For 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibits, the Curiosity Center and Brain Teasers 2, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about exhibits and programs.