Quoddy Nature Notes ~ White footed Mouse

Deer MouseDeer or White footed Mouse

Mice are fun things to study, especially during this time of year. It seems like in the attic or garage one can sometimes bump into a mouse or two, so what’s with these cute but often pesty critters? It turns out that there is a lot of confusion about our mice. Mostly, it seems, people just want to get rid of them and care nothing about the beasts themselves.

The most common types of native mice we have here in the Quoddy region are the White-footed mouse Peromyscus leucopus and the Deer mouse P. maniculatus. Or not, some of the recent literature, like my bible, Whitaker and Hamilton’s Mammals of the Eastern United States, say we only have Deer mice here. The Maine Naturalist, published in the early 1900’s, messed things up by calling P. leucopus a White-footed mouse (or Deer mouse, locally), and P. maniculatus a Canadian White-footed mouse. This report described our present Deer mouse pretty accurately, but mentioned that it “…probably reaches its Southwestern limit in Brunswick, Maine.” Other references state we have both types of mice here. They are very similar, but the Deer mouse is supposed to have a characteristic tuft of long hair on the end of its longer tail, and the color is generally more apt to be gray.

Both types of mice can be hosts to bacteria which causes Lyme disease. As a matter of fact a few years ago a Lyme disease scare was predicted, and the culprit was to be the White-footed mouse. In 2010, a much better than average crop of acorns was noted. This was supposed to result in a much higher survival rate of White-footed mice to 2011, and consequently more ticks. The following season the mice would have a massive die-off because the acorns would be fewer, and the ticks in 2012 would also be starving and looking for new hosts, that is, people. Did this happen? In 2010 the number of reported cases of Lyme disease dropped from 970 to 752 but the numbers came back to 1002 in 2011; 1111 in 2012; 1376 in 2013, and close to that in 2014. I don’t see a close relationship between acorns or whether or not we have White-footed mice here, but be careful under any circumstance.

Our mice are more apt to move into buildings during the winter. During the summer they might even be helpful in the gardens as they consume many insects like caterpillars, ants and flies, and are not as damaging to plants like their distant cousin, the meadow vole. Some people even live trap Deer or White-footed mice and make pets out of them, similar to hamsters or gerbils. I’m not sure of the legality of this in Maine. I don’t mind the mice in my barn, but my house and attached garage are off limits. I had a problem with mice in my garage last fall. I live trapped them, marked them under the chin with a Magic Marker, released them in the barn, and by spying on the little rascals found out where they got into my garage. As of now I’m winning. Be careful in handling mice. Always use gloves, as they can bite, even though they are not aggressive. They might also harbor some weird diseases like hantavirus.

So, in keeping with the spirit of the season, make sure your bird feeders are slightly overflowing, so the creatures of the night can have a midnight snack. And if they get to be too much of a nuisance, live trap them for a snowy owl.

Read more about the Deer Mouse Family here….

To learn more about the white footed mouse as a carrier of Lyme disease bacteria and how forest fragmentation in neighborhoods and cities impact this issue read more here


  1. Joan Farnsworth says

    Hi Fred,
    I have always referred to the gray mouse as the common house mouse and the slightly smaller tan/white bellied mouse as the deer mouse. Do I have it all wrong?

    • Fred Gralenski says

      Hi Joan
      The Deer mouse and White-footed mouse are the same genus with minor differences. The house mouse is an introduced species that has been here since the Pilgrims. The house mouse is more likely to be found in villages, but they can be found anywhere. It seems to have smaller eyes, no darker ‘line’ on its back (note the darker streak on the picture) and its tail is essentially bald. It apparently has a pretty strong smell when it is caught in a snap trap. Adults of all three species weigh about an ounce, and are similar in size.