White footed mice quickly showing up in South Mississippi

A graphic of deer mice.
A graphic of deer mice. Tim Lockley/Special to the Sun Herald

The common house mouse has country cousins.

They will come inside to visit during the coldest months, but only temporarily. They are otherwise known as white-footed mice. In the past, white-footed mice and deer mice were only occasional invaders of rural residences and out buildings.

Since The Storm, a lot of people have moved north of I-10 into the country and have begun to experience visitations by these shy creatures.

The deer mouse is probably the most common mammal found on our continent. You can find it from southern Canada all the way down into southern Mexico. From this side of the Rockies to the Atlantic coast.

White-footed mice can easily be distinguished from the house mouse. As their name suggests, they have white feet. They also have white bellies and are more or less brownish on top. If you get close enough, you’ll see that their tails have short, fine hairs and can be as long as their bodies.

As opposed to house mice, white-footed mice have larger ears and eyes. White-footed mice lack the “mousy” smell often associated with house mice.

Unless a white-footed mouse is dead or caught in a trap, human beings seldom see one. They’re most active from dusk until dawn and will avoid contact with us. For most of the year, they are going to live outside in underground cavities beneath roots of trees or shrubs, under a log or in a burrow abandoned by another animal.

In rare instances, white-footed mice have been found living in old bird nests. When they come into our buildings, they can build their nests in furniture or cupboards. If at all possible white-footed mice will build their nests as far from human contact as they can get, such as attics, garages or crawl spaces.

They will use stuffing from mattresses or furniture, paper, cloth or other similar material to line their nest. They also have a tendency to cache food such as nuts, berries and seeds. During warmer months, they feed on bark, fruit, insects, roots and seeds.

As with their cousins the house mice, rodent proofing your home is the best method to prevent them from invading your house. Start by sealing all openings bigger than the thickness of a pencil. If white-footed mice find an opening, they will gnaw at it until they have a hole large enough for them to get in and out.

Keep food stored in containers; preferably metal. Don’t keep pet food out at night.

Poisons work. But unlike house mice these guys are great hoarders and will carry off more bait pellets than they initially consume. Because of this tendency, bait blocks will work better than loose pellets.

If you’re concerned about using poisons, old-fashioned snap traps are still an option. Bait the traps with peanut butter or moistened oatmeal and place them against a wall. Mice prefer to travel along a wall because of the protection it affords them. If even this is too much for your delicate sensibilities, you can use a live trap.

Use the same method as with the snap trap. Once it’s captured, take the mouse into an open field well away from your house and let the little guy go. White-footed mice have an excellent sense of direction and have been documented returning to their capture point from as far away as 1 1/2 miles.

On the other hand, you can just be patient and wait for them to leave. When the weather warms up, they will leave your home and return to their natural habitat.

Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535.