Creatures of the Night: Grasshopper Mouse

Mice will eat just about anything, but most prefer plant parts. The grasshopper mouse, however, is a ferocious carnivore. It eats grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, worms, lizards, scorpions, snakes, and other mice. It hunts like a cat and defends its territory by howling – it is the mouse that roars.

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There are several species and most inhabit the grasslands of the great plains, but at least one species is a desert dweller. The Northern Grasshopper mouse has a range from Canada to Mexico, and California to Minnesota; the Southern Grasshopper mouse has a range that includes parts of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The southern species is gray-brown- to cinnamon colored with a short white-stripped tail. Most grasshopper mice are relatively stout compared to other mice. The head and body is 3.5″- to 5″ and the tail is 1″ to 2.5″ long.

Usually a male-female pair live together and defend a territory. It marks the territory with musk.

Grasshopper mice have very strong jaw musculature required for killing prey. And they learn quickly how to deal with various prey. One observer describes how the mouse dealt with a 3-inch scorpion in Arizona: ” The mouse would first nip the tail so that the stinger was ineffective. It would then stand the scorpion on end, holding it with its front paws, and methodically eat the writhing creature head first.”

The grasshopper mouse is a nocturnal hunter, a good climber, and active year round. In some areas, scorpions account for almost their entire diet, which might be surprising because the mice are not known to have any immunity to scorpion venom.

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These mice will eat seeds, grasses, and grains, and cache them, like other mice, but about 90% of their diet is animal matter. The strangest part of their diet is sand. Biologists think the mice eat sand to aid in digestion, just like some birds ingest gravel. And that’s not all that is strange about their digestive system. As described in an article by Mary Ingle: “A pouch attached to the underside of the stomach opens into it via an aperture too small for large food particles to pass through. The pouch contains all of the gastric glands that contribute to the breakdown of food and are normally found in the stomach of other mammals.” Ingle speculates that the pouch exists because the insect diet would be too rough and damaging for delicate gastric glands to function normally.

The grasshopper mouse digs four kinds of burrows: nesting, retreat/sleeping, caching, and the bathroom.

The mice have several vocalizations. You may have heard their territorial proclamation and mistaken the high-frequency sound for that of an insect. So now, when you are out at night, listen for the mouse that roars.

For a video of a battle between a grasshopper mouse and a very large centipede check here: http://tinyurl.com/ylyme9w Note that centipedes are venomous.

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