We opened the dog food bin this morning, and lo and behold, sitting at the bottom, looking very full, was a mouse. My husband said that it was the strangest mouse he had ever seen.
I told him that it was a deer mouse, because it had big eyes and ears, a sharply bicolored tail and a white belly. A house mouse has a slightly pointed nose, small protruding eyes, very little hair on its ears or tail and a gray or light tan belly.
I don't know how the mouse climbed the sides of the tall plastic bin and got into it through the lid. But, with temperatures dropping, mice begin migrating into warmer habitats - homes and garages. I have found them under my sink, in the dog treat cabinet, near the heater, in closets and even under dressers and beds. It's great living in the country!
Although some people might consider mice cute, deer mice can carry hantavirus, a respiratory distress disease that can kill humans through contact with or inhalation of dust from their urine, feces or saliva. House mice can transmit salmonellosis (food poisoning) and other diseases, as well as tapeworms and organisms containing ringworm (a fungal disease in humans). They also chew up many materials to make nests: furniture, pillows, mattresses, rugs, clothes and paper products.
Any time you see mouse droppings, air the area out for at least 30 minutes. Spray the area with a disinfectant or solution of household bleach before sweeping, vacuuming, or handling any surface or material with which mice have had contact. Wear gloves. A face mask also would be a good idea.
Exclusion is the best control method. All openings larger than one-quarter of an inch must be sealed with heavy materials such as concrete mortar, galvanized sheet metal or heavy-gauge hardware cloth. Devices that claim to frighten mice, repellents and ultrasonic sound, are all ineffective in deterring them.
Toxic baits are available, some of which require continuously supplying bait until feeding stops. These also can be toxic to cats, dogs and pigs, if misused or if a pet or predator eats a treated animal.
Bait boxes are also available. The old method of setting mouse traps still works, but many people don't like to remove the dead animal. In that case, throw the trap and mouse away, and set a new trap. Mice like dried fruit, nuts, bacon or even chocolate.
For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 887-2252. You can "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing mastergardeners@ unce.unr.edu or call your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at www.unce.unr.edu.
- JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.