Are You a Mouse or a Mouse?


Grabbing a dry leaf, I reached to use it to pick up the dead “mouse” lying beside the sidewalk. I went for its tail. “Was this here when you girls walked in?” I asked from the living room of the apartment where Josie does childcare two nights a week. She watches her sister’s 10-year-old friend who would not appreciate me calling it “babysitting.”

“It was on the porch yesterday, and I laid it there by the bushes,” she responded.

So, it’s at least a day old, I thought as I carefully lifted the brown ball of fur.

There was no odor (luckily the weather had been cool). The fur was rumpled but there was no open wound, so I studied the critter.

I was suspicious. It didn’t seem like a mouse. Its body was larger, but not big enough for a rat, and it certainly wasn’t a mole. I studied the teeth. The head was shaped differently – more like our gerbils, and the teeth angled back flat against the lower jaw reminding me of a beaver, but this little guy was 2 to 3 inches long.

I carried it to the back yard, put it under some leaves beneath a tree, and hoped it would gradually “fade away” without any unpleasant consequences.

It bothered me that I didn’t know what it was. I felt sure it wasn’t a mouse, but I knew it wasn’t a mole. How about a shrew? I wasn’t well informed about these little rodents.

What kept surfacing in my vision of picking it up was the short tail, very short, and those front teeth were so long and angled back. When we got back home, I couldn’t get to our mammal book fast enough.

SHREW? – Its tail was short but the nose was long and pointy with almost no ear showing.

Wait. What’s this on the next page? WOODLAND VOLE and then MEADOW VOLE. Now, this looks like it. OK, they referred to them also as “Field Mice.” Well, how about that?

All the mice I had ever seen caught in traps and by cats around the places I’ve lived looked more like the mice that are for sale at our local pet store.

I had finally seen a field mouse. I never knew how much it differed from a house mouse. My mammal guide showed 6 types of mice, 3 voles, 3 moles, 3 shrews, and 1 lemming. I didn’t go on to look at rats, bats, gophers, or squirrels. I’d had my lesson for the day.


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