Perognathus flavescensplains pocket mouse

Geographic Range

Perognathus flavescens (plains pocket mice) can be found in the Great Plains region of North America, ranging from the northern edge of Mexico northward to Minnesota and the Dakotas. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Jones and Birney, 1988)


Generally P. flavescens resides in open habitats made up of loose, sandy soil, with little to moderate vegetation. The species has occasionally been noted to reside in other types of environments. These animals commonly build vertical burrows underneath a bush or plant. These burrows are small hills about 10 cm in diameter with several small holes leading about 15 to 20 cm underground. Most of these holes are approximately the size of a person's finger. The main entrance to the burrow is plugged every time the animal is inside the burrow. A burrow consists of a nesting area and several caches, or places for food storage. (Brown, 1966; Burt and Grossenheider, 1976; Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Easterla, 1967; Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Thompson, 2002)

Physical Description

P. flavescens has short pelage that is a dark-buff color with a hint of black hairs mixed in on the dorsal side. The ventrum is a lighter buff to white, and is separated from the dorsal pelage by a a lateral line. Although the color of the pelage varies geographically, the ventral side is usually patchy in color, rarely is it all white regardless of locality. (Burt and Grossenheider, 1976; Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Easterla, 1967; Hazard, 1982; Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Thompson, 2002; Williams, 1999)

P. flavescens has some interesting morphological characteristics, including external fur-lined cheek pouches, six mammae, and their upper incisors are grooved. This species also has a dental formula of I 1/1, C 0/0, P 1/1 M 3/3 = 20. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Easterla, 1967; Hazard, 1982; Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Thompson, 2002; Williams, 1999)

Body length of these animals ranges between 110 and 155 mm. Tail length is between 49 and 89 mm. Hind foot length is 16 to 18 mm, and ear length is 5 to 7 mm. These animals weigh between 7 and 16 g. Size and body proportions vary geographically, but there is no consistent sexual dimorphism. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Easterla, 1967; Hazard, 1982; Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Thompson, 2002; Williams, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    7 to 16 g
    0.25 to 0.56 oz
  • Range length
    110 to 155 mm
    4.33 to 6.10 in


There is little information on the mating systems of P. flavescens.

Plains pocket mice have a breeding season that lasts from April through the late summer, with some variation depending on their location and climate. They have two to three litters per year, ranging in size from 2 to 7 young, although litter size on average is four young. The gestation period is approximately 25 to 26 days. Female young born in the early spring can breed at about ten to seventeen weeks. The young are born underground in a nest within the burrow. (Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Williams, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    These mice can produce two or three litters per year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs between April and late summer.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 7
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    25 to 26 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    10 to 17 weeks

There is little information known about the parental care of the plains pocket mouse. Because they are mammals, we can infer that the mother provides the young with milk, protection, and grooming in the natal nest until the age of dispersal. The role of the male in the parental care of this species has not been documented.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female


It has been determined by tooth wear that plains pocket mice seldom live beyond one to two years, although they have been known to live slightly longer in captivity. (Monk and Jones, 1996; Williams, 1999)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 to 2 years


Plains pocket mice are nocturnal, although they will forage during the day when skies are overcast. Their nocturnal activity is reduced when the moon is full and very bright, possibly as a means of escaping detection by nocturnal predators. These animals also either enter a torpor period or hibernate when the weather becomes extremely cold. Even though these animals are inactive in the cold, they will become active for short periods to feed on stored food. (Hazard, 1982; Jones and Birney, 1988; Williams, 1999)

  • Average territory size
    404 m^2

Home Range

P. flavescens has a home range of about 404 square meters. (Thompson, 2002)

Communication and Perception

There is little information known about how plains pocket mice communicate. However, we can infer that, as mammals, they use some combination of accoustic and visual signals. Tactile communciation is undoubtedly of importance between mothers and their offspring, between mates, and possibly between rivals during mating or feeding competition. It is likely that there is some scent based communication, as phermones are important in mammals, although there have been no specific reports of this in this species.

Food Habits

P. flavescens is primarily a granivore, eating mostly seeds, but insects such as ants have been found in caches within their burrows. On occasion, plains pocket mice will also feed on different types of grain such as wheat and oats along with some types of grasses such as needle grass, sandbur grass, and pigeon grass. In times of low resources or overpopulation, they will feed largely on arthropods and insects. (Williams, 1999; Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Hazard, 1982; Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Thompson, 2002; Williams, 1999)

It has been observed that P. flavescens has the ability to climb stalks and stems of plants to retrieve seeds and fruits. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Hazard, 1982; Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Thompson, 2002; Williams, 1999; Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Hazard, 1982; Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Thompson, 2002; Williams, 1999)

Plains pocket mice obtain most of their water from the seeds that they digest. However, it is thought that they also will lick dew and green plants to maintain their body fluids at an acceptable level. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Hazard, 1982; Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Thompson, 2002; Williams, 1999; Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Hazard, 1982; Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Thompson, 2002; Williams, 1999)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


P. flavescens, like other species of rodents, is prey for many small carnivores, as well as raptors and reptiles. (Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Thompson, 2002)

Ecosystem Roles

P. flavescens is important within its ecosystem because it provides a food source for many different types of animals. Also, plains pocket mice gather and create food caches full of different types of seeds which helps disperse these seed. In addition to this, this species creates burrows full of tunnels which helps aerate the sand and soil in which it resides. (Burt and Grossenheider, 1976; Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Easterla, 1967; Jones and Birney, 1988; Monk and Jones, 1996; Thompson, 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

P. flavescens most likely has no direct importance to humans. However, this species is appealing to science because it is the only animal in Minnesota that is adapted to an arid climate. This is significant because it raises many questions about the ecosystems in Minnesota. (Hazard, 1982)

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There is very little information about how this species negatively affects humans. These mice may be seen as a pest for agriculture because they have the ability to climb up stalks and stems to obtain seeds and fruits from crops. ()

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

This species is not listed by CITES or IUCN. It is not endangered within the United States.

Other Comments

There has been a recent debate as to whether P. apache and P. flavescens are two different species, or if they should be considered subspecies of P. flavescens. (Williams, 1999)

The genus name Perognathus is comes from the Greek words pera, meaning pouch, and gnathus, meaning jaw. It describes the fur-lined cheek pouches that are characteristic of this genus. The species name flavescens comes from a Latin word meaning yellowish, which describes the pelage of this species. (Monk and Jones, 1996)


Victoria Spencer (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor, instructor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in


lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Brown, L. 1966. The first record of Perognathus flavescens in Wyoming. Journal of Mammalogy, 47: 118.

Burt , W., R. Grossenheider. 1976. A Field Guide to the Mammals (3rd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Davis , W., D. Schmidly. 1997. "Plains Pocket Mouse" (On-line ). Accessed 10/02/02 at

Easterla, D. 1967. First specimens of plains pocket mouse from Missouri. Journal of Mammalogy, 48: 479-480.

Hazard, E. 1982. The Mammals of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Jones, J., E. Birney. 1988. Handbook of Mammals of the North-Central States. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Monk, R., J. Jones. 1996. Perognathus flavescens. Mammalian Species, 525: 1-4.

Thompson, J. 2002. "Plain Pocket Mouse" (On-line ). Playa Wetlands. Accessed 11/02/02 at

Williams, D. 1999. Plains pocket mouse (Perognathus flavescens). Pp. 498-499 in D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithosonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington and London: The Smithsonian Institution Press.