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The house mouse (Mus musculus) is considered one of the most troublesome and economically important pests in the United States. House mice live and thrive under a variety of conditions in and around homes and farms. House mice consume food meant for humans or pets. They contaminate food-preparation surfaces with their feces, which can contain the bacterium that causes food poisoning (salmonellosis). Their constant gnawing causes damage to structures and property.
Droppings, fresh gnawing, and tracks indicate areas where mice are active. Mouse nests, made from finely shredded paper or other fibrous material, are often found in sheltered locations. House mice have a characteristic musky odor that identifies their presence. Mice are occasionally seen during daylight hours. House mice are gray or brown rodents with relatively large ears and small eyes. An adult weighs about 1/2 ounce and is about 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 inches long, including the 3 to 4-inch tail. Although house mice usually feed on cereal grains, they will eat many kinds of food. They eat often, nibbling bits of food here and there. Mice have keen senses of taste, hearing, smell and touch. They are excellent climbers and can run up any rough vertical surface.
In a single year, a female may have five to 10 litters of usually five or six young each. Mice may breed year-round, but when living outdoors, they breed mostly in spring and fall. They are mature in six to 10 weeks. Litters of 5 or 6 young are born 19 to 21 days after mating, although females that conceive while still nursing may have a slightly longer gestation period. Mice are born hairless and with their eyes closed. They grow rapidly, and after 2 weeks they are covered with hair and their eyes and ears are open. They begin to make short excursions from the nest and eat solid food at 3 weeks. Weaning soon follows, and mice are sexually mature at 6 to 10 weeks of age. The lifespan of a mouse is about nine to 12 months.
When house mice live in or around structures, they almost always cause some degree of economic damage. In homes and commercial buildings, they may feed on various stored food items or pet foods. In addition, they usually contaminate foodstuffs with their urine, droppings, and hair. House mice cause structural damage to buildings by their gnawing and nest-building activities. Tracks, including footprints or tail marks, may be seen on dusty surfaces or in mud. A tracking patch made of flour, rolled smooth with a cylindrical object, can be placed in pathways overnight to determine if rodents are present. Urine, both wet and dry, will fluoresce under ultraviolet light, although so will some other materials. Urine stains may occur along travel ways or in feeding areas.
Effective prevention and control of house mouse damage involve three aspects: rodent-proof construction, sanitation, and population reduction by means of traps both mechanical or baits. The first two are useful as preventive measures, but when a house mouse infestation already exists, some form of population reduction is almost always necessary.
Good sanitation will also reduce food and shelter for existing mice and in turn make baits and traps more effective. Pay particular attention to eliminating places where mice can find shelter. If they have few places to rest, hide or build nests and rear young, they cannot survive in large numbers.
The most successful and permanent form of house mouse control is to "build them out" by eliminating all openings through which they can enter a structure. All places where food is stored, processed or used should be made mouse-proof. Dried grain and meat products should be stored in glass jars, metal canisters or other resealable airtight containers.
Trapping is an effective control method. When only a few mice are present in a building, it is usually the preferred control method. Trapping has several advantages: (1) it does not rely on inherently hazardous poisons, (2) it permits the user to make sure that the mouse has been killed and (3) it allows for disposal of the mouse carcasses, thereby avoiding dead mouse odors that may occur when poisoning is done within buildings.
Mice constantly explore and learn about their environment, memorizing the locations of pathways, obstacles, food and water, shelter, and other elements in their domain. They quickly detect new objects in their environment but, unlike rats, do not fear them. Thus, they will almost immediately enter bait stations and sample new foods (baits). The degree to which mice consume a particular food depends on the flavor of the food in addition to its physiological effect. Mice may reject baits simply because they do not taste as good as other available foods. Rodenticides are poisons that kill rodents. “Building out” rodents and trapping are the most effective control methods. Rodent baits should be used only to supplement these methods. If there is a repeated need to use baits, it is likely that sanitation and mouse-proofing should be improved. Remember that rodent baits are poisons. They should be replaced, refreshed and maintained on a routine basis. A mouse will not go after rotten bait.
Baits are available in several forms. Grain baits in a meal or pelleted form are available in small plastic, cellophane or paper packets. These sealed "place packs" keep bait fresh and make it easy to place the baits in burrows, walls or other locations. Mice gnaw into the packet to feed on the bait. Block style baits are also very effective for most situations. Bait stations (bait boxes) may increase both the effectiveness and safety of rodenticides. They came into general use after the development of the first-generation anticoagulants, which require that a continuous supply of bait be made available to rodents. Bait stations are useful because they:
Protect bait from moisture and dust
Provide a protected place for rodents to feed, allowing them to feel more secure. This is an important advantage when baiting mice, which apparently like to spend time feeding inside such bait boxes
Keep other animals (pets, livestock, and desirable wildlife) and children away from hazardous bait
Allow placement of bait in locations where it would otherwise be difficult because of weather or potential hazards to non-target animals
Help prevent the accidental spilling of bait
Allow easy inspection of bait to see if rodents are feeding on it
There is little evidence that sound of any type will drive established mice or rats from buildings because they rapidly become accustomed to the sound
Effective monitoring, maintenance, prevention, and control should be done by a professional pest control applicator. Mice infestation should not be taken lightly and should be evaluated frequently by the homeowner to prevent infestation.