With Whitefoot the Wood Mouse, Danny Meadow Mouse and Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse attending the learning sessions, the Mouse family was well represented, and when they began the next morning there was still another present. It was Piney the Pine Mouse. Whitefoot, who knew him, had brought him along.
“I thought you wouldn’t mind if Piney came,” explained Whitefoot.
“I’m glad he has come,” replied Mother Nature. “It is much better to see a thing than merely to be told about it, and now you have a chance to see for yourselves the differences between two cousins very closely related, Danny Meadow Mouse and Piney the Pine Mouse. What difference do you see, Happy Jack Squirrel?”
“Piney is a little smaller than Danny, though he is much the same shape,” was his prompt reply.
“True,” said Mother Nature. “Now, Striped Chipmunk, what difference do you see?”
“The fur of Piney’s coat is shorter, finer and has more of a shine. Then, too, it is more of a reddish-brown than Danny’s,” replied Striped Chipmunk.
“And what do you say, Peter Rabbit?” asked Mother Nature.
“Piney has a shorter tail,” declared Peter, and everybody laughed.
“Trust you to look at his tail first,” said Mother Nature. “These are the chief differences as far as looks are concerned. Their habits differ in about the same degree. As you all know, Danny cuts little paths through the grass. Piney doesn’t do this, instead he makes little tunnels just under the surface of the ground very much as Miner the Mole does. He isn’t fond of the open Green Meadows or of damp places as Danny is, rather he likes best the edge of the Green Forest and brushy places. He is very much at home in a poorly kept orchard where the weeds are allowed to grow and in young orchards he does a great deal of damage by cutting off the roots of young trees and stripping off the bark as high up as he can reach. Would you please tell us, Piney, how and where you make your home?”
Piney hesitated a little and then he ventured to say “I make my home under ground. I dig a nice little bedroom with several entrances from my tunnels, and in it I make a fine nest of soft grass. Close by I dig one or more rooms in which to store my food, and these usually are bigger than my bedroom. When I get one filled with food I close it up by filling the entrance with earth.”
“What do you put in your storerooms?” asked Peter Rabbit.
“Short pieces of grass and pieces of roots of different kinds,” replied Piney. “I am very fond of tender roots and the bark of trees and bushes.”
“And he dearly loves to get in a garden where he can tunnel along a row of potatoes or other root crops,” added Mother Nature. “Striped Chipmunk mentioned his reddish-brown coat. There is another cousin with a coat so red that he is called the Red-backed Mouse. He is about the size of Danny Meadow Mouse with larger ears and a longer tail.”
“This little fellow is a lover of the Green Forest, and he is quite as active by day as by night. He is pretty, especially when he sits up to eat, holding his food in his paws as does Happy Jack Squirrel. He makes his home in a burrow, the entrance to which is under an old stump, a rock or the root of a tree. His nest is of soft grass or moss. Sometimes he makes it in a hollow log or stump instead of digging a bedroom under ground. He is thrifty and lays up a supply of food in underground rooms, hollow logs and similar places. He eats seeds, small fruits, roots and various plants.”
“There is still another little Redcoat in the family, and he is especially interesting because while he is related to Danny Meadow Mouse he lives almost all in trees. He is called the Rufous Tree Mouse. Rufous means reddish-brown, and he gets that name because of the color of his coat. He lives in the great forests of the Far West, where the trees are so big and tall that the biggest tree you have ever seen would look small beside them. And it is in those great trees that the Rufous Tree Mouse lives.”
“Just why he took to living in trees no one knows, for he belongs to that branch of the family known as Ground Mice. However he does live in trees and he is quite as much at home in them as any Squirrel.”
Chatterer the Red Squirrel was interested right away. “Does he build a nest in a tree like a Squirrel?” he asked.
“He certainly does,” replied Mother Nature, “and often it is a most remarkable nest. In some sections he places it only in big trees, sometimes a hundred feet from the ground. In other sections it is placed in small trees and only a few feet above the ground. The high nests often are old deserted nests of Squirrels enlarged and built over. Some of them are very large indeed and have been added to year after year.”
“One of these big nests will have several bedrooms and little passages running all through it. It appears that Mrs. Tree Mouse usually has one of these big nests to herself, Rufous having a small nest of his own out on one of the branches. The big nest is close up against the trunk of the tree where several branches meet.”
“Does Rufous travel from one tree to another, or does he live in just one tree?” asked Happy Jack Squirrel.
“Wherever branches of one tree touch those of another, and you know in a thick forest this is frequently the case, he travels about freely if he wants to. However those trees are so big that I suspect he spends most of his time in the one in which his home is,” replied Mother Nature. “And if a predator appears in his home tree, he makes his escape by jumping from one tree to another, just as you would do.”
“What I want to know is where he gets his food if he spends all his time up in the trees,” spoke up Danny Meadow Mouse.
Mother Nature smiled. “Where should he get it other than up where he lives?” she asked. “Rufous never has to worry about food. It is all around him. You see he lives mostly on the thick parts of the needles, which you know are the leaves, of fir and spruce trees, and on the bark of tender twigs. So you see he is more of a tree dweller than any of the Squirrel family. While Rufous has the general shape of Danny and his relatives, he has quite a long tail. Now I guess this will do for the nearest relatives of Danny Meadow Mouse.”
“He certainly has a lot of them,” remarked Whitefoot the Wood Mouse. Then he added a little wistfully, “Of course, in a way they are all cousins of mine, although I wish I had some a little more closely related.”
“You have,” replied Mother Nature, and Whitefoot pricked up his big ears. “One of them Bigear the Rock Mouse, who lives out in the mountains of the Far West. He is as fond of the rocks as Rufous is of the trees. Sometimes he lives in brush heaps and in brushy country, although he prefers rocks, and that is why he is known as the Rock Mouse.”
“He is maybe a trifle bigger than you, Whitefoot, and he is dressed much like you with a yellowish-brown coat and white waistcoat. He has just such a long tail covered with hair its whole length. And you should see his ears. He has the largest ears of any member of the whole family. That is why he is called Bigear. He likes best to be out at night and often only comes out on dull days. He eats seeds and small nuts and is especially fond of juniper seeds. He always lays up a supply of food for winter. Often he is found very high up on the mountains.
“Another of your cousins, Whitefoot, lives along the seashore of the East down in the Sunny South. He is called the Beach Mouse. In general appearance he is much like you, having the same shape, long tail and big ears, although he is a little smaller and his coat varies. When he lives back from the shore, in fields where the soil is dark, his upper coat is dark grayish-brown, and when he lives on the white sands of the seashore it is very light. His home is in short burrows in the ground.”
“Now have we covered enough about the Mouse family?”
“Wait, you haven’t told us about Nibbler the House Mouse yet. And you said you would,” Peter Rabbit said with a pout.
“And when we were learning about Longfoot the Kangaroo Rat you said he was most closely related to the Pocket Mice. What about them?” said Johnny Chuck.
Mother Nature laughed. “Alright, I can see that you want to know all there is to know,” she said. “Be on hand tomorrow morning. I guess we can finish up with the Mouse family then and with them the order of Rodents to which all of you belong.”
- Have you been on the look out for rodents, specifically mice, in your neck-of-the-woods? Or field? Or backyard? Or barn? Or even a rock wall? Are there signs of their homes? Nesting materials or tracks or seed stashes?
- Do you have any predators of mice around or near your home? An outdoor barn cat perhaps? Or owls or hawks? Who else might be eating the mice in your area?