Carnivorous Mouse Plague Devours Prairie Dog Population
The population of black-tailed prairie dogs in the U.S. has been declining markedly lately, and researchers have been struggling to figure out precisely why. They knew the dogs were succumbing to a plague spread by fleas, but somehow, even after an entire colony of the critters had perished, the disease lived on and spread to new colonies. Just how did it pull that trick? According to the results of a new study out of Stanford University, there’s a second culprit: the deceptively docile-sounding grasshopper mouse.
“Grasshopper mice have no respect for prairie dog territories,” Stanford associate professor James Holland Jones said. “They’re nasty little beasties, and when they eat the carcass of a prairie dog that’s died of plague, the fleas climb aboard the mice. The mice then schlep the fleas around to different territories, connecting family groups that otherwise wouldn’t be in contact.”
Say again? They eat the carcasses of the prairie dog? Just what kind of mouse is this? Surge Desk takes a look:
What is the grasshopper mouse?
The 6-inch-long rodent belongs to the “new world mouse” category and is related to the mouse you may see running around your house. There are three species of grasshopper mouse: Mearns’, northern and southern.
What is its habitat?
Semiarid and arid areas in the northwest U.S as warmer temperatures are preferred. They’re found in Southern California, Nevada, Utah and Mexico, depending on the species.
What does it eat?
Unlike other mice, which merely supplement their vegan diets with an insect here and there, the grasshopper mouse’s main entrees are insects and invertebrates, hence “grasshopper” mouse. Other food items include snakes, worms, other mice (size regardless), scorpions and carrion.
What else is weird about this mouse?
The grasshopper mouse isn’t affected by venom from, for example, scorpions or snakes. It attacks with a quick lunge and bite to the prey’s neck. It also stands on its hind legs and howls.
Grasshopper mice don’t mate for life. During mating season, males claim as much as 9 acres of land for breeding. Females are satisfied with just 4, but these territories are still huge compared with the average area of less than 1 acre for a deer mouse. Sourcë: aolnews.com