White-footed mice range from 150 to 205 mm in total length, with their tail making up about one-third of that length. They weigh from 15 to 25 g. The fur on their back ranges from light brown to a more reddish brown, while the fur on their stomach and feet is white. Their tails tend to be darker on the top and lighter on the bottom.
White-footed mice are found throughout most of the eastern United States. They are found from the Atlantic coast of North America as far north as Nova Scotia, west to Saskatchewan and Montana, throughout the plain states, and south into eastern and southern Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula. They do not occur west of the Rocky Mountains or the Sierra Madre. They also do not occur in states along the Atlantic coast south of Virginia.
White-footed mice live are most commonly found in warm, dry forests and brushlands at low to mid-elevations. The can survive in a wide variety of habitats, including higher elevation forests and semi-deseart. Because they are so adaptable, they also do well in suburban and agricultural settings. White-footed mice are the most abundant small rodent in mixed forests in the eastern United States. In the southern and western portions of their range, they are more restricted in habitat and are mostly found in wooded areas and semi-desert scrub near waterways. In southern Mexico, they occur mainly in agricultural areas. White-footed mice build nests in places that are warm and dry, such as a hollow tree or vacated bird's nest.
Males have home ranges that overlap with multiple females, providing access to multiple mating opportunities. Pups in a single litter often have different fathers.
White-footed mice have different breeding seasons depending on where they live. In the northern parts of their range, they breed in spring and late summer. In southern parts of their range, they can breed year round. Females can begin to have babies when they are 44 days old. Females are pregnant for 21 to 28 days, but they occasionally are pregnant for longer as they practice "delayed implantation", or waiting for good conditions to give birth. Females can have 2 to 4 litters a year, each containing 2 to 9 young. Young are born blind, and their eyes usually open about 2 weeks after birth. Young are nursed by their mother for about 3 weeks in total.
Young white-footed mice are born blind, naked, and helpless. Their eyes open at about 12 days of age, and their ears open at about 10 days. Females care for and nurse their young in the nest until they are weaned. Soon after that, the young disperse from their mother's range. If the young or the nest are in danger, female white-footed mice carry their young one at a time to a safer location.
Most white-footed mice live for 1 year in the wild. In captivity, white-footed mice can live several years.
White-footed mice are primarily nocturnal. They are mainly solitary and are territorial, although their home ranges often overlap. White-footed mice climb and swim well. They also have a good sense of direction, and are able to return to a particular location from as much as 2 miles away.
When young white-footed mice are threatened, their mother carries them to safety one at a time by holding them by the neck with her teeth.
A distinctive behavior of white-footed mice is drumming on a hollow reed or a dry leaf with its fore paws. This produces a prolonged musical buzzing, the meaning of which is unclear.
Home ranges of white-footed mice vary from 0.5 to 1.5 acres. Density ranges from 4 to 12 mice per acre. The home range of males overlap with those of many females, providing access to potential mates. Females are territorial during the breeding season.
White-footed mice have keen eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell. They use their vibrissae (whiskers) as touch receptors. A distinctive behavior of white-footed mice is drumming on a hollow reed or a dry leaf with their front paws. This produces a long musical buzzing. It is unclear why white-footed mice do this.
White-footed mice are omnivorous. They mostly eat seeds, berries, nuts, insects, grains, fruits, and fungi. In order to prepare for the winter, white-footed mice gather and store seeds and nuts in the fall.
White-footed mice are active primarily at night and are secretive and alert, thus avoiding many predators. They are abundant in many habitats and are the major diet item of many small predators.
White-footed mice are often abundant where they occur and are important as prey items for many small predators.
White-footed mice play a role in the transmission of Lyme disease. They carry the bacteria that causes the disease and pass it to larval deer ticks when they are bitten. These deer ticks can then pass the disease to humans or other mammals. They also may be carriers of hantavirus, or Four Corners disease, through their feces. Where they are abundant white-footed mice may limit the soread of trees such as acorns and pines, whose seeds they eat.
White-footed mice eat various types of fungi and help to disperse the spores of these fungi through their droppings. This helps to spread spores of fungi, such as mycorhizzal fungi, which help trees to gain nutrients through their roots. White footed mice may also eat harmful insect pests, such as gypsy moths. White-footed mice are not significant crop pests.
White-footed mice are not endangered or threatened. They are common and abundant.
George Hammond (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.
Shaina Aguilar (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
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