The white-footed mouse is common in Illinois and most of the eastern United States. Its scientific name, Peromyscus leucopus, is very descriptive. Peromyscus means “booted mouse," and leucopus means “white foot.” While these mice are considered a forest species, they can live in many different habitats as long as some trees and shrubs are present. They avoid grasslands and crops unless they are searching for food.
What do they look like?
These mice can vary in color, from brown to reddish brown to grayish brown, and they often have a noticeably darker shade along the middle of their backs. Their bellies and feet are white.
Their tails are the same length or slightly shorter than their bodies, and they have just a little bit of hair. Their tails have similar coloring to their bodies, dark on top and white underneath.
They have large, naked ears; large, black eyes; and pointed snouts. Including both their bodies and tails, they vary in length from about 6 inches to 8 inches long. They weigh between 15 grams and 25 grams, which is the same as six to 10 pennies.
How do they fit into the food web?
White-footed mice are an important food source for many carnivores, including owls, hawks, snakes, weasels and foxes. They in turn are omnivorous creatures. They eat small seeds, acorns, fruits, leaves, fungi, beetles, caterpillars, centipedes, spiders, snails and occasionally even small birds and mammals.
What are their habits?
White-footed mice are mostly solitary and nocturnal. They do not hibernate. They will make homes in hollow fallen trees and old bird nests. They are good swimmers, climbers and jumpers. They also have a great sense of direction. In studies, white-footed mice have been able to find their homes when dropped off 2 miles away.
They are very alert and have great senses of smell, sight and hearing. Their whiskers, called vibrissae, also give them a strong sense of touch. Strangely, these mice are often observed using their front paws to drum on a dry leaf or hollow reed. No one knows why they do this.
What is their lifecycle?
These mice are born furless, with both their ears and eyes closed. Their ears open after about 10 days, and their eyes open after about 12 days. About one week later, they are ready to find their own food and venture out on their own.
By 44 days old, they are ready to find a mate. Females can have two to four litters in one year, with about five pups per litter. On average, they live about one year in the wild.
Are they good or bad?
White-footed mice rarely enter homes, unlike their pesky cousin, the house mouse. They are hosts to deer ticks, which can carry Lyme disease. However, this has made them an important animal for scientists searching for a cure for Lyme disease.
They can be beneficial in other ways too. For one thing, their presence in a forest can tell us that the forest is healthy and able to support a community of many different species. Also, because they eat fungus, they spread spores in their feces. As the spores grow underground, they help trees absorb needed nutrients. Overall, we are lucky to have them as residents of Illinois!
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