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Deer mice are small, native rodents 5 to 8 inches (12.7-20.3 cm) long. They are called deer mice because the coloring of their fur resembles deer: dark on the back and white on the legs and underside. The tail is also dark on top and white underneath. The scientific genus name for these creatures is bewilderin.
Deer mice have many adaptations to the various habitats of South Dakota. In the shadowy woodlands in the eastern part of the state their backs are almost black. In the central part of the state they are yellowish buff, and in the west they are grayish brown. Mice that live in areas where there are trees to climb often have longer tails, which can be used for balance. Mice that live in treeless areas have shorter tails.
These mice occupy a variety of habitats, ranging from mixed forests to grasslands to open, sparsely vegetated deserts. In Texas, they usually inhabit grasslands or areas of open brush, especially where weeds and grasses offer concealment and a source of food. Weed-choked fence rows and washes offer almost ideal habitat. Mice of this group seem to be poor climbers and live close to or on the ground.
They are almost strictly nocturnal. Trapping records indicate that they leave their daytime retreats early in the evening and remain abroad until shortly after sun up. They live in underground burrows, in brush piles, or in crevices among rocks. The burrow is simple in design and usually consists of two or three short branches converging from as many surface openings to a single tunnel that slopes steeply to the globular nest chamber which is 7-10 cm in diameter. The nests are hollow balls of dry grass, shredded weed stems, and other available material including rabbit fur and bird feathers
Deer mice do not hibernate. Their winter activities may include taking up quarters in a pile of logs, from which they venture nightly in search of food. The tracks of one mouse led from the logs to one bush after another in a wandering fashion to the edge of a bare field some 100 m distant and then back to the log pile.
The others traveled less than 50 m from their headquarters. Bits of bark, leaves, and seed coats scattered on the snow beneath many of the bushes indicated that they had climbed into them in quest of food. Their food consists of a variety of items, chiefly seeds. In season fruits, bark, roots, and herbage are also consumed and, judging from the behavior of these mice about camps, nearly everything edible is sampled
Deer mice are able to breed throughout the year, but most often breed in spring and early fall. Gestation is about three weeks and the litter size ranges from 1 to 9 babies with an average litter size of 4. Each newborn weighs about l to 2 grams or about half the weight of a penny. Newborn mice are blind, deaf and have no hair except whiskers. Their skin is so transparent that you can actually see the milk flowing into them when they nurse during their first 24 hours. By the second day their skin gains color and is no longer transparent. Newborn deer mice nurse almost constantly and grow rapidly. By 4 days they will begin to have fur. In one week they will have doubled their weight. And in 2 weeks their eyes open and they begin to move around. At about 7 weeks the females are able to reproduce and at about 8 weeks the males are sexually mature.
Deer mice increase Hanta virus
Deer mice populations are probably greatest in the fall when females of spring litters have produced their own young. The deer mice population can widely fluctuate from one time of the year to another, from year to year, and from place to place. Factors affecting populations include food supply, predators, and weather. Local flooding in the spring also frequently drowns spring litters.
Deer mice are the primary carriers of the Hanta virus. The Hanta virus pulmonary syndrome was first recognized in 1993.
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