I think about mice a lot.
There are two reasons for this. The first is practical. We’ve been blessed to own a mountain house and there’s an ongoing effort to keep the mice outside and us inside. For the record, I don’t resent the mice for this; we’re on their turf. I do, however, fight them. We initially thought our cats might help. Unfortunately, they’re fully domesticated and see no reason to work for their food. Instead, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time stuffing steel wool into M&M size openings and calling exterminators, attempting to create a clear boundary between the wild and the domestic. For some reason, your average mouse doesn’t want to respect this line. The result is an ongoing, interspecies battle that will never end. If I’m being realistic, there’s no chance I will emerge victorious. At best, I can hope for an uneasy stalemate, moments of détente punctuated by occasional flashes of conflict.
The second reason is sheer fascination. Years ago, on a trip to a Shenandoah National Park, a ranger explained that, if you put two mice in a field, unthreatened by predators, in twelve months there would be 50,000. Now, I’m not sure the figure is absolutely accurate, but it really got me thinking about where mice fit in the food chain.
I did a little internet research, across a number of different websites, on what types of predators eat mice. The answer is, well, virtually everything. Here’s a partial list: eagles, hawks, owls, snakes, jackals, bobcats, wolves, foxes, coyotes, badgers, feral cats, weasels, and ferrets. Herons, crows, and blue jays, while they don’t consume mice as a staple in their diets, will eat them when they find them. Big cats, like lions, jaguars, and tigers, prefer an antelope or gazelle, but will snack on mice. A mouse certainly can’t take a nice little swim to avoid danger – there are fishing lures that are meant to imitate a mouse in the water. Housecats, while they don’t necessarily eat them, will play with the poor things until they die. And, according to Wikipedia, in Victorian Britain, fried mice were given to children as a cure for bed wetting.
In summary, the mouse can be a main part of the diet, a supplemental calorie source, or a quick bite just to fill in the hole between meals. To put that in human terms, a mouse can be a steak, side dish, or Cheez-It. It seems to me that the only reason they exist is to feed others. Hence, the title of this column – Kibble with Legs.
Now, because I think too much, I considered what the meeting was like the day mice were invented. I pictured two guys, in an office, having a conversation that went something like this.
“The Big Guy seems happy with how the whole creation thing is going. I’m thinking we should be pleased with our work.”
“True, but, now that we’ve got all the predators lined up, we need something for them to eat.”
“I think we’ve got that figured out. R&D has developed a mammal, in the rodent subset, that almost every creature will want. It will be small enough to provide a full meal for some, plentiful enough to keep others going until the main dish comes along.”
“Well, you wouldn’t like ‘em, but animals love the things.”
“Can we make enough?”
“That’s the beauty of it. Their design, and we can thank that brilliant intern Jill for this, allows the females to have five, ten, or even fifteen litters annually, each with five to six young, maybe even more, and the newborns are ready to procreate within three to four weeks of birth.”
“Specific numbers will vary, but you get the picture. These things will reproduce like crazy.”
“What are we going to call them?”
“The linguistic folks will come up with something in Latin, but in the lab, we’ve named them mice”
“Okay, so if these mice are so prolific, how can we escape being overrun by the ones that aren’t eaten?”
“Left on their own, the wild ones live, at most, two years. Maybe two and a half. More likely one. Natural attrition.”
“And, get this, later on, after things get more civilized, they’ll provide entertainment for some of the more domesticated species.”
“You mean, like living toys?”
“That seems a little harsh.”
“Circle of life, baby.”
My imaginary conversation got me thinking about the benefits of being human. First off, I get to eat tasty food, cooked, and flavored with spices. If I want, I can melt cheddar on top of my turkey burger. I don’t think your average garter snake is doing that before he sucks up an unsuspecting mouse. And, while I’m not plowing any new ground here, it’s pretty reassuring that, on most days, I don’t have to worry about being pounced on, plucked from the ground, or gobbled up in a single bite. Plus, if I take care of myself and have some luck, I get to live a pretty long time. On top of that, we’ve got Netflix. All in all, a much better place to be in the food chain.
Anyways, that’s why I think about mice a lot.