California Nature

Learn about California's beautiful and unique nature.





California Mice & Rats
A mouse is a small mammal belonging to the order of rodents. The best known mouse species is the common house mouse. It is also a popular pet. In some places, certain kinds of field mice are also common. This rodent is eaten by large birds such as hawks and eagles. They are known to invade homes for food and occasionally shelter. Primarily nocturnal animals, mice compensate for their poor eyesight with a keen sense of hearing, and rely especially on their sense of smell to locate food and avoid predators.

Wood rats are commonly called Pack Rats or Trade Rats because they collect various objects and bits of material to deposit in, or use in the construction of, their nests. They are especially fond of small, bright, shiny objects which they will readily confiscate. There are 22 species of Woodrats -- more often called Packrats or Trading Rats in North and Central America. These rodents, belong to the family Cricetidae (order Rodentia). They are found from deserts and forests to high, rocky mountainsides. There are 7 species Woodrats of the North American deserts. Wood rats are pale buff, gray or reddish brown, usually with white undersides and feet. They have relatively large ears and, normally, hairy tails. They range in length from 8 to 20 inches, including their 3- to 9-inch tail.

The california mouse forages for seeds in San FranciscoThe California Mouse is found from San Francisco Bay south and east along the Coast Ranges to the border of Mexico, and at lower elevations in the western Sierra Nevada from Mariposa County south to Kern County. The California mouse is a common resident of montane, mixed, and chamise-redshank chaparral, coastal scrub, valley foothill hardwood, and valley foothill hardwood-conifer habitats.

California mice are prone to nocturnal activity. There may be an activity peak just before dawn. The California mouse eats fruits, flowers and seeds of a variety of plants, fungi, and arthropods. In woodland habitats, acorns are eaten, but the seeds of California bay are the major food. In coastal scrub, the California mouse prefers the seeds and fruits of shrubs, especially Salvia The California mouse is a good climber, and forages extensively in shrubs as well as on the ground. Occupied or abandoned woodrat nests are an important source of cover, and there is experimental evidence that California mouse density is related to the availability of woodrat nests.

The Cactus Mouse occurs in southern California, coastally from Ventura County south to the border of Mexico, and inland from Death Valley National Monument south throughout the Mojave and Colorado deserts. The cactus mouse is common to abundant in desert riparian, desert scrub, desert wash, Joshua tree, pinyon-juniper, and palm oasis habitats. The cactus mouse is mostly nocturnal, and is active year-round, but shows reduced above-ground activity in hot weather. The cactus mouse seems to be less active on moonlit nights probably due to the threat of hawks and owls, and other predators. Cactus Mice feed on green vegetation, seeds, fruits, and flowers. Cactus mice in coastal scrub of California feed heavily on shrub foliage, seeds, fruits, and flowers. Insects are moderately important in the diet. Poison-oak is eaten in fall and winter. Treefoil is a major spring food plant, followed by sage and various grasses. In Arizona, arthropods were an important diet element.

The desrt woodrat lives near cactus and joshua treesThe Desert Woodrat is found in the Great Basin, Sonoran and Mojave deserts from southern Oregon and Idaho, south through Nevada, western and southern Utah, and southern California to Baja. This Woodrat sometimes appropriates the burrow of a ground squirrel or Kangaroo Rat, and will fortify the entrance with sticks and cactus spines. It is 8.5 to 15 inches long, buff-gray above, gray below, with hind feet white. The nests of desert-dwelling Woodrats, often built in and of cholla and beavertail cactus, are usually impregnable to predators, except for the Badger. The Woodrat is most vulnerable when out foraging for food, at which times a Coyote, fox, snake or owl may prey upon it. Primarily nocturnal and vegetarian, desert Woodrats survive on a diet of spiny cactus, yucca pods, bark, berries, pinyon nuts, seeds and any available green vegetation. They rely on succulent plants for their water, since they do not have the refined metabolic and water conservation capabilities of Pocket Mice and Kangaroo Rats. They are one of the few animals that can navigate with impunity between cactus spines to feed on the juicy pads.

California Kangaroo Rats require open areas away from the humidity of the coast in northern California and southern Oregon. They seem to need well-drained soil, and after a rain can be seen pushing mud out of their burrows. Cold, wet winter weather can be a cause of mortality. California Kangaroo Rats eat seeds, berries, green vegetation, and small tubers, and store food in very small and scattered caches. This Kangaroo Rat has a broad face and dark fur, and its tail has a distinct white tuft on the end. The rare and endangered Giant Kangaroo Rat now occurs only in California’s Carrizo Plain. Unlike many other Kangaroo Rats, it possesses 5 toes on each hind foot, a white stripe running across its hindquarters, and a white belly. It also has a distinctive tail that is dark colored on the top and bottom with white lines on both sides. The Kangaroo Rat overall length averages 9 to 14 inches for the various species, the largest being Banner-tailed Kangaroo Rats. The tail, always longer than the head and body, is covered with fur, and the end is tufted with longer hairs. The long tail undoubtedly acts as a balance when the animal is making long hops.



    
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