The Australian house mouse (Mus musculus) is one of the few animals introduced to Australia by humans unintentionally. Up until about the 1770 there were no mice in Australia! House mice arrived as stowaways on sailing ships from Europe.
Mice may have arrived in Australia as early as 1770 during the visit by James Cook on the sailing ship Endeavour.
It is most likely, however, that they arrived with the First Fleet in 1788 and either swam ashore from ships anchored in in Botany Bay or were brought ashore hidden away in the ships stores and provisions.
Recent DNA analysis of house mice in Australia confirm that they arrived from Western Europe with early European settlers. Their genetic signature suggest that they originated in two parts on the United Kingdom, namely somewhere in north-western Britain and/or Ireland and somewhere in southern Britain.
People frequently mistake the Australian house mouse with the native Australian marsupial, the antechinus, which is very similar in appearance.
The House Mouse
The house mouse is a placental mammal, has chisel-shaped front teeth, four clawed toes on each front foot plus a claw-less insignificant thumb. It has a five clawed toes on its rear feet. It has smooth rounded ears and a scaly tail.
The antechinus is a marsupial mammal (it carries its babies in a pouch on its belly), has many small sharp teeth, five clawed toes on each front foot and four clawed toes on its rear feet. It has rounded crinkly ears that look like double-ears. It also has a tail with fur.
The house mouse has soft dense brownish-grey fur on its upper body and a lighter fur on its underside. It has large rounded ears, bulging eyes, and a pointed snout with two distinctive chisel-shaped incisors (front teeth). It is approximately 60–95mm long with a dark scaly tail of equal length. Its can weigh between 15–25gms. Male and female mice are roughly the same size. The most obvious difference between the sexes is the presence of testicles on adult males which can be retracted into the body. Also while the female has five pairs of nipples the male has none. Mice are primarily nocturnal animals and have little or no colour vision.
The house mouse has adapted very well to the Australian environment. It is found throughout Australia, in every habitat. It tries to avoid wet damp conditions however. The house mouse predominantly lives in urban areas in close proximity to humans. They enter building through openings as small just 6mm in diameter. They infest nooks and crevices of man-made structures that provide them with shelter from the elements and adequate food. They also live in fields and on farms, or any location offering protection from the elements and with a sufficient food supply.
Mice are territorial and sent mark their territory with urine. Males have larger territories than females. A mouse will travel its entire territory daily to investigate any change that may have occurred in it.
The house mouse is omnivorous. It eats both plant and animal matter. Its preferred diet are seeds, especially cereal. Mice also have a liking for food high in fat and protein which are frequently found in human food waste. Mice consume about 4gms of food a day. This is roughly 20% of its body weight per day. They travel around their territory consuming a small quantity of food from each site.
The house mouse reaches sexual maturity in about 5-8 weeks and is a prolific breeder. A female can have as many as 8 litters per year with an average of 6 pups which equals to 48 young per year.
A female pregnancy lasts between 19 to 21 days. Mouse pups are born naked and blind. Within 10 days, they are covered with fur and their eyes and ears are open. By their 5th week pups are weaned and are sexually mature.
Mice make audible squeaks but more interestingly most of their sounds are ultrasonic. That is, beyond the range of human hearing.
Mice are known to sing complex ultrasonic sounds which are unique from one individual to another. Their sounds have been described as being akin to bird calls because of their level of complex. Male mice are most vocal during courtship and when tickled. Females chirp around other females and mouse pups squeak when abandoned by their mother.
Mice also communicate through the pheromones which they discharge through their tears and urine.
Mice transmit diseases to humans and other animals through biting, droppings, fleas, lice, mites and ticks. Some of the common diseases carried by mice are salmonella, hantavirus, leptospirosis, and even the plague.
Disease transmission can occur when people handle or consume food contaminated with mice faeces and urine, or drink from a water source containing a dead mouse or skin contact with mice urine. Indirect transmissions can occur through mites, fleas, mosquitoes, and other parasites after they have fed on infected mice. Most diseases spread by mice can be treated with prompt proper medical care.
The worst mouse plague was in 1993 when they are estimated to have caused over $96 million in damage to crops, piggeries and poultry farms where they chewed their way through food grain, live animals, electrical cables, machinery and lots more. Fortunately, these plagues are short lived as eventually a shortage of food and colder drier weather reduce their numbers very rapidly to more manageable levels.
Given the right climate and an abundant food supply, mice can breed very rapidly. In fact, it has been estimated that a single breeding pair can produce up to 500 offspring in a breeding season. This can result in the mouse population reaching plague proportions in a very short period of time.
Mice consume farm produce, especial grain crops. They are also known to gnaw on fitting and fixtures such as electrical wiring, hoses, plastic, etc. They even gnaw away at live animals such as chickens at sleep.
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