California Mouse and Dusky-footed Wood Rat

We have been catching (and feeding!) rodents nightly in our catch and release cage in the garage. Next weekend we are going to work on sealing up the garage. In the meantime, we have identified two species who like McVitie's Digestive Biscuits smeared with peanut butter.

California Mouse, Peromyscus californicus

(Also shown in the cute picture introducing this post.) A kind of deermouse fairly local to California, they are cute with those enormouse ears and bright eyes, and I read that they can be kept in cages (though that is illegal of course without a permit) but they also carry the Hanta virus, which can make humans sick. They can live in burrows or even in wood rat mounds. They mate for life, which seems to be about 18 months at longest, in the wild.
This link has more info.

Dusky-footed Wood Rat, Neotoma fuscipes

Similar to the California Mouse but bigger and with smaller ears relative to the body. Local to California's coastal regions, this critter lives in huge mounds. Groups of mounds persist for many generations of wood rats, which live in matrilinear groups. We have four or five mounds about 20 feet to 40 feet below our swimming pool, on the north side, mixed evergreen forest, mostly madrone in this area. Here is one - It's about three feet high.

The riparian wood rat (Neotoma fuscipes riparia) is an endangered subspecies. Actually yesterday I learned that even the regular dusky-footed mob are protected, and it is illegal to destroy their mounds. Instead you have to get a licensed professional to relocate the mound! I would not have thought that possible.

I must herewith make confession that we have in fact removed one mound that was very close to our front door, just a few feet down the chaparral slope from it, maybe 10 vertical feet. I hesitated for a long time, but it was just not tenable for us to have this huge mound so close, and over time I nudged and poked it to give eviction notices before dismantling it. I didn't know of the protected status of the creatures at that time. There was one nest chamber deep in the pile of twigs, but I didn't find any evidence of recent occupation. (I also have a hazy memory of maybe committing another such crime a number of years ago, but don't honestly recall. Oh the guilt, the guilt!)

When I was taking the mound pictures, I was very excited to see western sword fern Polystichum munitum, which I haven't noticed on our property before though it's common elsewhere in our locale. It likes shade and doesn't require as much water as some other ferns:

You can also see some Satureja douglasii, yerba buena, and dryopteris arguta, coastal wood fern, which also grows in the chaparral, but not so lushly. These are said to be difficult to propagate, but I intend to learn how and try.

This link has more info on the dusky-footed wood rat. This one is also nice.

Since starting on this post, we got another wood rat in the trap, yesterday evening. He looked a little dazed and confused. I think the two we have trapped so far are young ones.

He also looked a little darker overall than the first one we caught, but similar to pictures I've seen on the links above.

I have to append a caveat here that I'm not knowledgeable enough to ID these animals with authoritative certainty, but I did ask others who know more than I and these are the conclusions they came to.

And now - California Mouse - the Movie! - Or at least the self-published children's short story. It would go something like this:

Mr and Mrs Smith live in the mountains. "Oh dear," said Mrs Smith. "We have mice in the garage!" ... "Let us catch and release them," said Mr. Smith. So they do - they catch one and take it to a field a short walk away from their house. Happily they let it hop away and return home, feeling good about themselves. Little do they know that the mouse they released is one of a pair mated for life. Now comes the adventure of the two little mice to get back together. They are helped by other creatures, in the manner of story books for little children. Mr Blue Belly the lizard, for example, and a frog or two etc. And they must evade dangers - Ms Coyote perhaps. Eventually Matra the matrilinear leader of the dusky-footed wood rat tribe who live in a mound village in a woodland slope will give them tenancy of a burrow that is reached via a side door into her mound and they raise a happy little mouse family. Then the red tailed hawk comes and eats them all up - the end.

Well maybe we'll let them have a narrow escape from the hawk!


Town Mouse said…
When it comes to relocating wood rat nests, I think you can claim eminent domain ;->
Christine said…
You might end up finding me in your traps- I love Mc Vities biscuits!
Yikes, that was informative!
My urban upbringing hasn't had a positive impact on my relationship with rats. I'm a scaredy cat!
But I applaud and laud your efforts!!
Come by for tea some time and bring the biscuits :~)
Brad B said…
Ha! I like the un-Disney-like ending of the hawk eating them all. I think you should keep it. Thanks for the informative post.
Gail said…
They are cuter then the little pesky mice that come into our mid south houses each fall! But just as problematic! Was the big eared mouse the model for Mickey? gail
Country Mouse said…
We are working on sealing the garage doors where they are getting in - but we did find three or four nests in some storage boxes and some unfortunate destruction going on. I do wonder about those Mickey Mouse ears too!
After the sealing of doorways is done we'll do hopefully a final round of trapping and releasing to clear the critters out of our nest! I'd like to send a McVities to all the kind commenters who dropped in! Would that twere possible :-D
Anonymous said…
Thank you. This was most helpful as I begin the process of relocating a dusky footed wood rat nest in my yard.
vikki krupp said…
Please, where did you get the information about the Dusky Footed Wood rat mounds being protected? Where is that written? Would love to know...
vikki krupp said…
where is it written that the dusky footed wood rat mounds are protected?
Country Mouse said…
Hi Vikki,
I believe I was told by a naturalist - I should have specified my source so I could check on it. Word to the wise for the future. I apologize and I agree with your finding: - I can't find anything now to back up that statement that it's illegal to move woodrat mounds without some sort of permission. The naturalist who told me may have been overstating the case. I'm pretty sure I also read something at the time to back up my statement but that also could have been wrong - the Internet is not a peer edited journal to be sure. Neotoma fuscipes riparia is protected, but I'm not so sure about the mounds of Neotoma fuscipes, our dusky footed friend. I have also been doing google searches in vain. I'll try checking among my more experienced naturalist friends and if I turn up more info I'll post another comment. Thanks for your inquiry - I'll update this post with an inline comment.