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Rats And Mice

( Originally Published 1936 )

Most of these animals are of small size, some of them the smallest known mammals, generally rather slender, with smooth short hair. The muzzle is pointed, the eyes and ears are rather large, and the tail varies much in different genera, in the Rats and Mice being usually long and scaly. Many of the species of this family are omnivorous, devouring any animal or vegetable food that comes in their way, and those which are carnivorous will prey upon their disabled or weaker fellows. These animals are very prolific, and though they have many enemies, it is not easy to reduce their numbers.

Wood Mouse (Mus sylvaticus)

This pretty little creature is reddish-brown above and whitish below, the colours being sharply defined. See Plate 17, Fig. 78. It is very common and prolific in many parts of Europe, and is destructive to grain, vegetables, and so on, though it will also eat worms and insects. It is rarely found in dwelling-houses, but it resorts to barns and outhouses in winter.

Mouse (Mus musculus)

This little animal is generally of a peculiar brown colour above, known as " mouse colour," and paler below, but black (melanistic), white (albinistic), or dappled varieties, are frequently met with, at least in captivity. The common Mouse is between three and four inches in length, including the tail, which is about as long as the body. See Plate 17, Fig. 81. It is widely distributed over almost the whole world, and is to be found in nearly every stack, yard, granary, and house, being even commoner than the rat. It is timid, but will venture into a room if everything is quiet, and is easily tamed. Mice utter a low sharp squeak, but occasionally a specimen is met with which emits a peculiar singing note. There has been considerable discussion respecting the cause of this musical ability, but it is generally thought to be due to some disease of the throat or lungs.

A peculiar variety is the black-and-white spotted Japanese Waltzing Mouse, that whirls round and round, at night, with only occasional intervals of quiet. Authorities differ also as to the cause for this disposition to waltz, but it is commonly regarded to be due to a deformity of the brain that has become established in the breed and is transmitted.

Black Rat (Mus rattus)

Rats are placed in the same genus with mice, and are similar in appearance, though the Rat has a much smaller head and ears in proportion to the size of its body, and the feet are also larger and heavier. Until less than two hundred years ago the Black Rat was the only species known in most parts of Europe. It is variable in colour, but typical specimens are bluish-black above and paler beneath, and measure about seven inches in length without the tail, which is rather longer than the body. See Plate 16, Fig. 76. Rats and mice are carried all over the world in vessels, and it is in many cases impossible to deter-mine the original native country from which the Black Rat may have been brought. Of late years it has been almost exterminated by the brown rat, and is quite rare in the countries where it was formerly common.


Brown Rat (Mus decumanus)

Greyish-brown in colour, the head shorter and blunter than that of the black rat, this is a larger and bolder animal, sometimes measuring as much as nine inches in length. See Plate 16, Fig. 77. It is a native of Northern China, but is said to have migrated westward and to have swam across the Volga in large numbers towards the close of the seventeenth century. It is now widely spread, and exterminates the black rat wherever it takes up its abode. The Brown Rat is extremely voracious and omnivorous. It grows to great size in the sewers of large cities, and men who work in them generally have a good terrier to drive off the rats, which in such places are really dangerous from their numbers and ferocity.

Sitric (Mus agrarius)

The Sitric is abundant in Eastern Europe and Siberia, but becomes rarer and more local in Western Europe, not extending as far as France. The head and body are about three and a half inches in length, and the tail is about one-fourth the length of the body. In appearance, as well as in habits, the animal has much resemblance to the wood mouse, but the tail and the ears are shorter, fur is more reddish-brown, and there is a narrow blackish stripe on the back. See Plate 17, Fig. 82.

Field Mouse (Arvicola arvalis)

In America this name is given to the Field Vole; but while Voles closely resemble true mice, they have stouter bodies, with a large head and short ears, and the tail is usually less than one-third the length of the body. They generally live in grassy places and make burrows in the ground, and are very injurious to crops when they multiply greatly, as is often the case. The species figured is yellowish-grey above and whitish below, and is about the size of a common mouse. See Plate i7, Fig. 79. This and allied forms are abundant in North America, on the Continent of Europe, and in Great Britain. The Voles are almost exclusively vegetable-feeders, eat grass, roots, fruits, bark, or buds, indiscriminately, and lay up stores of corn and nuts in their galleries for winter use. They have many enemies, weasels, owls, and other carnivorous mammals and birds destroying vast numbers of them.

Water Rat (Arvicolo amphibius)

This animal commonly known in Europe as the Water Rat, but more correctly as the Water Vole, is a large British Vole, dark grey above and paler beneath, and is always found near slowly running streams or ponds, where it makes its burrows in the banks, and feeds chiefly on water plants, roots, and bark, and lays up a store of provisions in its burrows. See Plate 17, Fig. 83. It is rarely seen far from water, in which it is quite at home, swimming and diving with great agility.

Hamster (Cricetus frumentarius)

The Hamster is allied to the voles, but has large cheek-pouches and a very short tail. It is brownish yellow above and black below, the front of the body more or less varied with yellowish white, and the feet are white. See Plate 17, Fig. 85. It is not found in Western Europe, but extends through Central and Eastern Europe and a great part of Central and Northern Asia, and grows to nearly a foot in length. Hamsters live in large burrows in the ground five or six feet deep, where they store up such large quantities of corn and other provisions that they are a great pest to the farmers, whom they plunder, stuffing their cheek-pouches with grain, which they deposit in their burrows and then returning immediately for a fresh supply.

Lemming (Myodes lemmus)

Also allied to the voles is the Lemming, an inhabitant of Northern Europe. It is five or six inches long, with a very short tail, the fur is very soft, varied with black and tawny above, and is whitish below. Lemmings inhabit dry mountainous regions, where they feed on grass and roots, but at irregular intervals they march forth in enormous numbers, travelling straight on from day to day and week to week till they finally reach the sea, in which most of those which have escaped the previous perils of the journey perish. It is unknown for what reason they under-take these migrations. See Plate 17, Fig. 80.

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