In 1767 a man named Gilbert White stumbled upon a curious creature in a wheat field. The tiny rodent had nested in a tennis ball-sized sphere resting in bent and woven leaves. He studied it and discovered that the mouse had a door in the little house that it opened and closed. The mouse moved from stem to stem in the tall grasses using a prehensile tail to grip the reeds for balance. What a curious little creature.
The mouse is 5-7 cm long with a bald tail of equal length. It weighs 5-7 grams. It is brown to rust red in color with a white underside. Lifespan in the wild is one and a half years, but typically six months. It is able to survive up to five years in captivity. It eats seeds, insects, fruit and nectar.
The harvest mouse is found in most of Europe, Korea, S. China, Japan. It is well known in the U.K. but is not found in Ireland. It lives in tall grasses, hedgerows, redbuds and barns but prefers fields of grain. It is active during the day and night. It does not hibernate but does eat less and sleep more in the colder months.
One of the interesting quirks that Gilbert White noted was the nest that the mouse constructs. Using living stems and leaves, it bends, splits, tears and manipulates the leaves to weave a tennis ball-sized nest a few inches from the ground. It uses loose grasses for a door and chewed bits of dead leaves for the lining. The process takes two days to complete. Gestation is 17-20 days and the babies are raisin sized and pink. Up to nine are born to a litter but the average is 3-4. After ten days the baby mice have open eyes and a soft, downy fur, they are weaned and leave the nest within the next week. The breeding season is from May to October and a healthy female can produce three litters a year.
The other interesting quirk is the prehensile tail that it uses to shimmy up stems and to swing through the reeds. The tail also serves as an anchor when feeding upside down.
Modern farming techniques such as the combine have wreaked a terminal dose of extinction on the future of the mouse. Most crops are cut early and often, destroying the tall stalks the mouse needs to make nests and to eat. Insecticides have killed some of their food sources and the ever growing roadways with faster and bigger cars pose the potential of road kill.
The smallest tiny mouse.