Editorial: Mouse in The House? You and Everybody Else

  • KRT — Patrick Tehan Jim Patton, a researcher from UC Berkeley, holds a deer mouse he trapped in the Glen Aulin area of Yosemite National Park. Researchers are doing a survey of the wildlife in Yosemite, the first since a 1914 survey by Cal researchers Joseph Grinnell and Tracey Storer.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Not to get all Dr. Seuss about it, but there are far too many mouses in far too many houses.

If you haven’t yet experienced it, you will: The relentless “gnaw-gnaw-gnaw” somewhere in the wall that makes you wonder about your wiring. The game of acorn Nok-Hockey played from one end of the ceiling to the other that makes it impossible to fall asleep. The mass of fiberglass insulation piled up into a snug little nest in a corner of the garage or the trunk of the car or even in the grill. One little brown doots in a cabinet or a drawer — and then, on closer inspection, another and another and another.

Bad smells.

Really bad smells.

In truth, it’s a mouse’s world. We’re all just living in it. Or trying to.

As staff writer Liz Sauchelli reported earlier this month, the Upper Valley has seen a rodent boom — not just the white-footed mouse and deer mouse, the two species common in rural areas of northern New England, but also the non-native house mouse, which has been taking up residence in population centers like Hartford, Hanover and Lebanon. Biologists say last year’s bumper crop of seeds, fruits and nuts is to blame for boosting the population of mice, along with squirrels and other rodents.

With their ability to squeeze through very small openings, perhaps as small as a pencil eraser, mice are almost impossible to keep out of the house. And with their need for shelter, especially during the winter, they’re coming in, regardless of your mouse-proofing efforts. Even though they live for just a year or two, said conservation biologist Steve Faccio of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, mice make the most of that time by multiplying rapidly: At two or three months old, their offspring are already having offspring.

At least it’s been good for the pest control business. Mike Fowler, of Fowler’s Pest Control in Sunapee, told Sauchelli he hasn’t seen it this busy in 30 years, with 200 more mouse house calls this year than last. One man in Lyme, he said, called him after trapping 80 mice in a single month.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Fowler said.

Ginny Musante, of Grafton, said she recently saw a mouse in her house for the first time in 32 years. She began looking around and before long found plenty of evidence. “Everything was covered with mouse pee,” she told Sauchelli. “This happened in the matter of a week and a half to two weeks.”

Musante called a pest control company. While waiting to get on the schedule, she worked to close the places where mice might be getting in and placed mothballs, peppermint oil and dryer sheets around (she didn’t want to use poison or snap traps because she was afraid they could harm her pets).

“At least we’re not dealing with rats,” she said.

That could change.

As Bloomberg’s Faye Flam wrote recently, climate change is doing more than raising ocean levels. The 2 degrees of global warming expected this century (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) will boost populations of crop-destroying insects and ocean-choking purple sea urchins.

It will also lead to a “rat explosion.”

That’s because warmer winters ramp up rat fertility, which hardly seems to need ramping up. According to Cornell University’s Bobby Corrigan, rats give birth after a short two-week gestation, and young rats begin reproducing in a month. In a single year, a single pregnant rat can lead to 15,000 to 18,000 new rats. Even now, Flam wrote, “People in urban areas such as New York and Boston are already noticing a lot more rats, not just in downtown alleyways, but even in the posh suburbs.”

Faccio said this year’s food supply is down compared with last year’s. “All these rodents are probably in for a difficult winter ahead,” he said.

Even so, it still looks like we’re going to need some help. Maybe in the future it will be a cat’s world.