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When Too Many Mice Isn’t So Nice: Explosion of Rodents Gnaws at Homeowners, Pest Control

  • KRT CALIFORNIA STORY SLUGGED: CA-YOSEMITESURVEY KRT PHOTO BY PATRICK TEHAN/SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS (August 27) 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. (mvw) 2003

  • Volunteer Seth Patterson releases a white-footed mouse after recording the mouse's weight and length on Friday, June 8, 2007 at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Rio Hondo, Texas. Patterson is assisting Dr. Susan Booth-Binczik in her research to save the small population of Ocelots found at the refuge. The rodents are captured with Dr. Booth-Binczik's own bait recipe of sweet feed and peanut butter and are an important food source for the Ocelots. (Jim Mahoney/Dallas Morning News/MCT)



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, November 03, 2018

Ginny Musante was watching a movie with her husband in their Grafton home when she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. A mouse had approached her cat’s food bowl, while her 18-year-old calico cat Jasmin slept nearby.

“I couldn’t believe it was that brazen,” Musante recalled.

She picked up Jasmin and put her beside the mouse.

“She was annoyed that I woke up her up. She was like, ‘No, not doing it,’ ” Musante said with a laugh. “She’s 18 and she’s fired. She’s never in her life caught anything. I think she’s too well-fed and happy. They’re good if they’re motivated.”

It was the first time in 32 years of living in her home that Musante remembered seeing a mouse. She explored her house and found evidence of others, including under her kitchen sink.

“Everything was covered with mouse pee,” she said. “This happened in the matter of a week and a half to two weeks.

“And I don’t believe there’s such a thing as one mouse.”

Mouse Explosion

Musante is far from alone: Residents throughout the Upper Valley are reporting an increase in the number of mice getting into their homes and vehicles. Their population numbers are up due to an abundance of the mast crop — fruits and nuts produced by trees and shrubs including acorns and hickory nuts — that also is responsible for the increase in the squirrel population.

“There’s not much food available this year compared to last year,” said Steve Faccio, a conservation biologist at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. “All these rodents are probably in for a difficult winter ahead.”

Two species of mice are common to the region: The white-footed mouse and the deer mouse, which are “pretty impossible to tell apart just by looking at them,” Faccio said. White-footed mice are also hosts for the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. In more populated areas — like the centers of Hartford, Hanover and Lebanon — the nonnative house mouse can also be found.

“The main difference is that it’s all brown,” Faccio said of the house mouse, while the two others have a white belly, “but they largely have the same ecology.”

The mice will feast on seeds, insects and even bird eggs.

“In winter they’re primarily focusing on seeds and they’ll store seeds that they find,” Faccio said.

Mice are known for their ability to slip through the tiniest of spaces. A deer mouse can squeeze through a whole that is 17 millimeters, or 11/16ths of an inch. That’s about the size of a dime “or maybe a little smaller,” Faccio said. Also, if they find a small opening, “they’ll gnaw on it and make it larger.”

“Mice don’t have clavicles,” or collarbones, Faccio explained. “They don’t have shoulders so the only constraint is their head size. If they can get their head through, they can get their whole body through. And that would be for an adult.”

Their lifespans are short.

“If they live a year or two, that’s probably a pretty long life for a mouse,” Faccio said. And they multiply quickly. “Their offspring in two or three months are having their own offspring.”

Professional Pest Control

In his more than three decades in the pest control business, Mike Fowler of Fowler’s Pest Control in Sunapee can’t recall another year when he’s seen this many mice. He said he recently received a call from a man in Lyme who had trapped 80 mice in a month.

“It’s been overwhelming,” he said, adding that there have been at least 200 more mouse jobs in 2018 than in 2017. Most years, Fowler starts receiving calls about mice around Aug. 15, when daylight begins to shorten, no matter what the temperature is, he said.

“This year was different. It was all summer long,” Fowler said. “Once you start seeing mice during the day running around, you know they’re competitive for food.”

When Fowler goes into a home, he looks for places mice can sneak through.

“I focus on exclusion,” he said. “But that’s easier said than done. You can only seal houses that allow you to seal them.”

For example, a house with a wraparound farmers porch might be more difficult to access because you can’t get underneath it.

“If they can fit an acorn through an opening, that’s going to be a ready, available opening for them,” Fowler said. “Usually it’s electrical, plumbing fixtures, AC lines.”

Fowler described the white-footed mouse as “a notorious climber.” If a tree is hanging over a home, the mouse can climb it to gain access. He also recommends cutting back on feeding birds, as the mice are attracted to the seeds.

“Look at the utility lines. Look at the garage door jambs,” Fowler said. “Look for any openings.”

It’s worth walking around your home with a mirror to check under a home’s siding.

“It takes a little work, but it can be done,” Fowler said.

Dale Shriver, owner of Twin State Home Inspections, has seen a few more additional mice infestations this year, in addition to more squirrels occupying attics.

“It really depends on how well the home has been rodent-proofed,” he said, adding that older homes with stone foundations can be more susceptible to mice. “We find lots more rodent activity in a vacant house of or one that’s lived in seasonally.”

Shriver also had a tip for homeowners who find mouse-friendly openings outside their homes.

“You can insert steel wool into crevices and cracks they can’t get through,” Shriver said. “Rodents don’t like steel wool.”

About 90 percent of the time, Shriver said, when he finds mice (or evidence of mice), they are in the attic or basement. If they get into loose-fill insulation, “that’s really difficult to clean up rodent droppings in.”

“If they stay outside, they’re as good as dead,” Shriver said. “They have to find shelter for the winter. The biggest thing to do is rodent-proof your house to the best of your ability.”

Trapping andGetting Rid of Mice

Once mice gain access to a home, the best thing to do is to set up traps, Fowler said.

“Trapping is your best bet, if the customer is willing to do it,” Fowler said. “That’s the most humane way to go, unfortunately. We don’t benefit from mice being inside.”

Curt Jacques, owner of West Lebanon Feed & Supply, said he’s noticed more customers coming in looking for mouse traps, poison and repellents. There are live traps, where once people catch a mouse, they can relocate it outside. While poisons have gotten safer, there’s the concern that it will harm other animals or pets. Customers also are concerned that mice will die in the home’s walls, causing an unpleasant smell that can last for weeks.

“Getting rid of mice is not a science. It’s more of an art,” Jacques said. “They can squeeze through openings that you could never in your life believe.”

Jacques said he tends to go with traditional snap traps.

“Placement is everything,” he said. He recommended setting them up against walls: “Mice love to run against the wall.”

In terms of kill traps, the snap ones tend to be the most humane. There is a possibility that a mouse’s tail can be caught first, but “that doesn’t happen very often,” Jacques said. “Those traps are designed that they get the head first.”

Stay away from glue traps. “It’s messy. It’s inhumane,” Jacques said. “And it’s expensive because you can’t get more than a couple into them.”

There are also live traps available. Some are able to hold a single mouse while others can hold upward of 10.

Fowler and Jacques stressed the importance of setting traps up and checking them regularly.

“The physical mouse traps are a great monitor everyone should have in the house,” Fowler said.

Check Your Vehicles

Mice are also capable of getting into vehicles, where they’re known to do damage.

“I don’t know if it’s any worse, but more people are talking about it,” said Dan Rock, a mechanic at Roberts Auto Service in Lebanon. When people bring in their cars due to a mouse issue, it’s usually to get the nest removed. “The animal is long gone generally. You have to disassemble the car to where you can reach these things.”

Mice might not chew the steel on the car, but “generally there’s enough fresh air openings where they can find their way in,” Rock said. “All I know is they get in pretty easy.”

It usually doesn’t matter whether a car is parked outside or inside a garage. The biggest thing is to take away anything that can tempt a mouse.

“Leave no food of any kind in the vehicle ... even crumbs,” Rock said. “They don’t need much.”

Trying Deterrents

Cotton balls soaked in peppermint and dryer sheets can also be effective in keeping mice away.

“They certainly can work, and they do work,” Fowler said. Those who use peppermint oil will need to check the cotton balls frequently as the oil can evaporate.

One device that has been popping up is ultrasonic devices, which claim to emit wavelengths that keep mice away. They should be approached with skepticism, however.

“I’m not convinced that the sonic ones are working,” Jacques said. While West Lebanon Feed & Supply carries them, they don’t have a ton of people coming back for them. Like other repellents, with sonic devices “you’re really not taking care of the problem. You’re pushing it toward the side,” he said.

At Re/Max Upper Valley in West Lebanon, where Gerry Stark works, poison kept the mice at bay before one of his co-workers brought in an electronic mice repellent.

“One day we were sitting in the office and ... a mouse runs right across the floor in front of it,” Stark said. “Now we’re back to the poison.”

Stark dealt with the mice in his Enfield home by setting up snap traps with peanut butter. He noticed an increase over years past, catching 10 within two to three weeks.

“I knew I had a bunch because the trap will get snapped and then the peanut butter was gone,” Stark said. There’s not much loyalty between the mice. Or much sympathy.”

Consider a Cat

While not all cats are mousers, sometimes having one in a home can keep mice away.

“Cats are great deterrents,” Jacques said. “And they actually, in some cases, work pretty well.”

Staffers at The Sullivan County Humane Society said they have not seen an increase in adoptions due to the rise in mice population and when people select their reasons for adopting a cat, “mouser” is rarely one of them.

“I would not say all cats are mousers,” said Cheryl Bromley, volunteer director at the Sullivan County Humane Society. “Some don’t have the prey drive.”

Domesticated cats that are used to being fed regularly, “probably go after a mouse more as a toy.”

If someone came in looking for a cat as a mouser, Bromley said that the more playful cats are “more likely to be mousers.”

Owners should still take precautions, however: Cats that eat mice should be put on a dewormer to protect them from parasites, Bromley said.

Bromley currently has five cats, and while she said she doesn’t know for certain whether they keep mice away, she’s never found a mouse — dead or alive — in her home.

Cats can provide more than mousing skills to their owners, though.

“They’re great companions. Cats definitely form an emotional bond with their humans,” Bromley said. There’s lots of kitties who are looking for homes.”

As for Musante, the Grafton homeowner with unmotivated mouser Jasmin, she’s put in a call to a pest control company.

“They’re so slammed right now,” she said.

In the meantime, she said, she’s set up moth balls in peppermint oil and dryer sheets with little luck. She said she won’t use poison because of her cat and young Yorkshire terriers. She’s also said she’s worried that the Yorkies, which weigh only 3 pounds each, would catch their noses on a snap trap or get tangled up in a no-kill trap. “I don’t know what my options are here.”

In the meantime, she said, she’s doubling down on looking for places where mice might sneak through, and she’s keeping her sense of humor.

“They are the cutest little buggers,” she said. “It’s the season and country living and just something we have to learn to deal with up here in New Hampshire and probably most places.”

She’s also looking on the bright side.

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

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.