mouse, name applied to numerous species of small rodents, often having soft gray or brown fur, long hairless tails, and large ears. The chief distinction between these animals and the variety of rodents called rats is in size: mice are usually smaller. Many small rodents are adapted for leaping or hopping and are named accordingly, e.g., the North American kangaroo rat and Asian jumping mouse.
Types of Mice
Most, but not all, of the rodents called mice are members of the rodent subclass Myomorpha, or mouselike rodents. The approximately 1,100 species in this enormous group are classified in several families. The Old World family Muridae includes the now ubiquitous house mouse, as well as a great variety of wild-living Old World species, including the Old World field mouse, the tiny European harvest mouse (Micromys minutus) and the African tree mice. The cosmopolitan family Cricetidae includes the native New World mice, such as the deer mouse, American harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys), the carnivorous grasshopper mouse, the South American field mice, the pack rat, and the rice rat; it also includes the various Old and New World species of vole, hamster, lemming, muskrat, and gerbil. Still other families of the Myomorpha include the dormouse, jumping mouse, and jerboa. The pocket mouse and the kangaroo rats and mice are members of the suborder Sciuromorpha, or squirrellike rodents.
The house mouse, Mus musculus, found throughout the world, is the most familiar of the mice; many of its races live commensally with humans and are serious pests, while others live in the wild. It usually measures about 6 in. (15 cm) long and weighs under 1 oz (28 grams). It has gray to brown fur, large rounded ears, a pointed muzzle, and a naked scaley tail. An omnivorous feeder, it causes great destruction and contamination of food supplies. Its nests are built of available chewable materials, such as clothing and paper. It may carry human diseases, such as typhoid and spotted fever. Females produce litters of four to eight young after a gestation period of three weeks; under favorable conditions they breed throughout the year. The young mature in two months. House mice, particularly albino strains, are extensively used in biological and medical experimentation and are also sometimes kept as pets.
Field mouse is a name applied to various wild-living mice in different parts of the world. The Old World field mice are species of the genus Apodemus, closely related to the house mouse and found throughout Eurasia and North Africa. The widely distributed long-tailed field mouse, Apodemus sylvaticus, is a nocturnal, burrowing creature that prefers succulent plant food and frequently invades gardens and houses. In North America the name field mouse (or meadow mouse) is applied to voles. South American field mice belong to the genus Akodon, with about sixty species distributed among a wide variety of habitats, including human dwellings. Most of these resemble long-tailed voles. The name tree mouse is likewise applied to various arboreal mice and voles in different parts of the world.
Mice are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Rodentia.
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Publication information: Article title: mouse. Encyclopedia title: The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. © 2012 The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia © 2012, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. Used with the permission of Columbia University Press. All Rights Reserved. Publisher: The Columbia University Press. Place of publication: Not available. Publication year: 2013.
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