Mice play an important role

Filed in Expert Articles, Snowshoeing by on November 10, 2013

TWG_story_snshoe06imgI’m walking across a snowy hillside meadow on a blanket of snow. Ahead I see a brown spec all by itself, presumably a mouse feeding on a lonely seed head above the snow. I’d like to pet him if given the opportunity. As I start toward the mouse, I notice across the meadow, a pair of ravens sitting atop a snag of dead wood. I pause and let nature run its course as one of the ravens glides over on glistening black wings, and picks up the little mouse as an evening snack for he and his mate.

How simple of a scene is this? But think, the world as we know it could not be without mice. Mice are low on the food chain. Mice convert plants that are carbohydrates, to protein. This protein is utilized by both carnivores and omnivores that are further up the food chain.

What local animals and birds rely on mice as a staple food source? Certainly fox and coyote feed on mice regularly, as do hawks such as the red tailed, and the northern harrier. Long and short-tailed weasels consume about one-third of their body weight a day in mice. At night, owls locate mice through their keen hearing.

Animals that are preyed upon by carnivores, such as mice, are generally herbivores. This is because there are abundant plants for herbivores to feed upon, and enables these animals to reproduce rapidly. Take squirrels and rabbits for instance. They are indeed abundant in order to supply the carnivores with food.

It is common to see tracks from foraging mice on top of the snow. Mouse tracks appear as a hopping gait. They propel themselves with their powerful hind legs, and land on their front legs. Similar to both rabbits and squirrels, the front feet appear in the rear of the set of prints because the front feet are overstepped by the rears as the animal continues in motion. Often you will also see a thin tail drag mark centered over the track as well.

If you ask yourself, “what is the most common animal in this landscape”? The answer is the mouse. It is important for us to maintain natural plant communities as we further develop this beautiful valley. By providing habitat for the simple mouse, we benefit other animals as well, and this diversity makes all of our lives more fulfilling.

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