Peromyscus leucopuswhite-footed mouse

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Geographic Range

White-footed mice are native only to the Nearctic region and 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.

Habitat

White-footed mice live are most abundant in warm, dry forests and brushlands at low to mid-elevations. They do, however, occur in a wide variety of habitats, from higher elevation forests to semi-desert. Due to this adaptability, 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 and in brushy areas bordering agricultural lands. In the southern and western portions of their range, they are more restricted in distribution, occurring mainly 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.

Physical Description

White-footed mice range from 150 to 205 mm in total length and tail length from 65 to 95 mm. They weigh 15 to 25 g. The upperparts of the body are pale to rich reddish brown and the belly and feet are white. In some parts of the range it is difficult to distinguish P. leucopus from other, closely related species, such as P. maniculatus, P. eremicus, P. polionotus, and P. gossypinus. White-footed mice are larger than P. eremicus, and the soles of their hind feet are furred in the heel region of white-footed mice but not in P. eremicus. P. maniculatus has a generally longer tail than white-footed mice that is distinctly bicolored. In white-footed mice, the tail is indistinctly bicolored. P. gossypinus can usually be distinguished by their longer hind foot, greater than 22 mm, whereas hind feet in P. leucopus are generally less than 22mm. P. polionotus is generally smaller than white-footed mice. Other North American species of Peromyscus can generally be distinguished from P. leucopus by tail length.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    15.0 to 25.0 g
    0.53 to 0.88 oz
  • Average mass
    23 g
    0.81 oz
  • Range length
    150.0 to 205.0 mm
    5.91 to 8.07 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.213 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Males have home ranges that overlap with multiple females, providing access to multiple mating opportunities. Pups in a single litter often have different fathers.

In northern populations of white-footed mice, breeding is seasonal, mostly occurring in spring and late summer or fall but extends from March through October. In southern populations, breeding seasons are longer, and in southern Mexico breeding occurs year round. The gestation period lasts 22 to 28 days. Longer gestation periods may result from delayed implantation in females still nursing their young from a previous litter. Young are blind when born. Their eyes usually open about 2 weeks after birth, and young are weaned about 1 week later. They are ready to mate at an average age of 44 days in northern populations and 38 days in southern populations. They can have 2 to 4 litters a year, each containing 2 to 9 young. The litter size increases with each birth, peaks at the fifth or sixth litter, then decreases. White-footed mice may live several years in captivity but in the wild there is almost complete population replacement each year.

  • Breeding interval
    White-footed mice can have 2 to 4 litters per year.
  • Breeding season
    White-footed mice breed from March to October, or throughout the year in the southern parts of their range.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 9
  • Average number of offspring
    5
  • Average number of offspring
    4.5
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    28 (high) days
  • Average gestation period
    22 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    44 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    73 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    44 days

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.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Most white-footed mice live for one year in the wild. This means that there is an almost complete replacement of all mice in the population from one year to the next. Most mortality occurs in the spring and early summer. In captivity, however, white-footed mice can live several years.

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    3 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 (high) hours
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    1.5 (high) years
    AnAge

Behavior

White-footed mice are primarily nocturnal. They are mainly solitary and are territorial, though adjacent home ranges do overlap. White-footed mice climb and swim well. They also have keen homing instincts. In one study, captured individuals returned to the site of their capture after being released 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 Range

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.

Communication and Perception

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.

Food Habits

White-footed mice are omnivorous. Diet varies seasonally as well as geographically and may include seeds, berries, nuts, insects, grains, fruits, and fungi. Because they do not hibernate, even in cold weather, in the fall they store seeds and nuts for the winter.

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers
  • Other Foods
  • fungus

Predation

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.

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

White-footed mice are often abundant where they occur and are important as prey items for many small predators.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

White-footed mice help spread various kinds of fungi by eating the sporing bodies and excreting spores. Forest trees' ability to take up nutrients is enhanced by the " mycorrhizal" associations formed by these fungi. For many temperate forest trees, these fungi have been shown to be an essential element in order for trees to prosper. White-footed mice also help control populations of some harmful insect pests, such as gypsy moths.

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

White-footed mice carry deer ticks, which spread Lyme disease. They also may be a reservoir for Four-Corners disease, as their fecal matter can contain hantavirus, the organism that causes this disease. White-footed mice may also act as seed predators of oaks and pines, hindering their growth and spread.

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease

Conservation Status

White-footed mice are not endangered or threatened. They are abundant throughout their range.

Other Comments

There are fossils in North America of the ancestors of Peromyscus leucopus from the Oligocene Epoch, about 40 million years ago.

Contributors

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.

Glossary

Nearctic

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

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

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.

chaparral

Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

endothermic

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.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

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).

motile

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.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

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

solitary

lives alone

stores or caches food

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

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

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).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

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

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Sevilleta Long-Term Ecological Research Project. 1995. http://sevilleta.unm.edu/animal/mammal/white-footed_mouse.html

Collier's Encyclopedia. Vol 8. " deer mouse." 1993. N.Y.

Lackey, James Alden; Huckaby, David G.; Ormiston, Brian G. Mammalian Species. "Peromyscus leucopus." No. 247, pp. 1-10. December 13, 1985. The American Society of Mammalogists.

"Animal Life History Database" (On-line).

Wilson, D., S. Ruff. 1999. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington D.C., USA: Smithsonian Institution Press.