It’s the season of the mouse.
Skittering and scratching along the walls, nibbling at toast crumbs and apple peelings while we sleep or gathering an attic nut stash, our most common wildlife creature makes its mark now — bits of black droppings in the cupboards, the hurried flash of gray and brown as it scoots across the kitchen floor.
“Mice are our number one complaint right now,” said Tom Dommermuth, owner of WESTCONN Pest Control in New Fairfield.
“Mice, and flying squirrels,” said Joel Ray, owner of Bats R Us Wildlife Removal Specialists in Bethel.
We cannot ever really get rid of them. Nor should we want to. They matter.
Outdoors, mice disperse seeds and nuts, eat things like gypsy moth larvae, and provide sustenance — bite-sized and bit-by-bit — to predators whether hawk, owl, fox, bobcat or coyotes.
“They play a vital role in the environment,” said urban wildlife expert Laura Simon.
Many live through the winter tunneling passageways under the snow. What we see as a placid white blanket is covering a little rodent subway system, where mice and their cousins, the voles, carry on until a fox pounces or an owl swoops down.
Which is why some mice opt for the indoors; it’s warm and hawk-free. It’s staying alive.
“It’s one of the challenges of such small things,” said Jenny Dickson, director of the wildlife division of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Dickson said that, in the wild, there are two species of nocturnal mice humans almost never see — the woodland jumping mouse and the meadow jumping mouse. Both have long tails, and strong back legs to propel them through the world.
“You’ll never see them indoors,” she said.
Which leaves white-footed mice — our most common rodent species — and deer mice. The two species are nearly identical and often get lumped together as field mice.
And there are also house mice. They’re an Old World species that came over on whatever boat sailed from Europe — from France, from the Netherlands, from England or Spain in the 17th century — and landed on North American shores.
“Just like the rest of us,” said Simon.
She questions whether the house mouse, which has cohabited with humans for thousands of years, might have scurried over the Bering land bridge, following the original settlers on this place.
“People are quick to say ‘non-native’ when it’s something they don’t like,” Simon said.
The DEEP’s Dickson said that most of the mice we see are white-footed mice.
“In rural and suburban homes, absolutely,” she said. “They’re a native species that’s successful in a lot of habitats in the state.”
They are little brown mice with white bellies and white feet. House mice, in comparison, are uniformly dusty gray-brown all over.
“Field mice, deer mice, house mice, you’ll find them all,” Dommermuth of WESTCONN Pest Control said.
People don’t want mice in their homes for obvious reasons.
They’re unsanitary. They leave droppings. They can tear up insulation to make nests and chew on electrical wires. If they die inside a wall, they stink as they decay. And because female mice can have a new litter every 60 days or so, they can have lots of babies.
There is also musophobia — the absolute, deep-seated dread of mice that can leave some people in a true panic when they see one.
“It’s like snakes,” Simon said.
The reason may have to do with basic mouse-iness.
“They’re quick and they have naked tails,” Simon said. “If they moved slower and had fluffy tails, people would think they’re cute.”
To combat mice infestations, people should start looking in the fall for any small entryway that, when it turns cold, mice can squeeze through. Because they are good climbers, that can mean looking at roof lines as well as the ground.
“It can be where pipes enter the house,” Simon said.
Once you have mice, the best method of getting rid of them are snap traps — whether old-fashioned or the better mousetraps now available.
People shouldn’t poison them, because if they mouse eats poison and them goes outside to die, there’s a chance a predator will get a dose of poison as well.
“It’s a real problem,” said Ray of Bats R Us.
Nor should they use glue traps, which hold mice in place until they die slowly of starvation.
“Of all the inhumane ways to kill a mouse, snap traps are the most humane,” Simon said.