Reithrodontomys megalotiswestern harvest mouse

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Geographic Range

Reithrodontomys megalotis is found over a wide portion of the western United States of America and central Mexico. It is broadly distributed from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Coast. It occurs at elevations from Death Valley, California (below sea level), to 4000 m on the Popocatepetl and Orozaba volcanoes in Central Mexico. (Ruff and Wilson, 1999)

Habitat

Reithrodontomys megalotis is found in a variety of open areas, including grasslands, prairies, meadows, and marshes. It also inhabits more arid areas such as deserts, sand dunes, and shrublands. (eNature.com, 2000; Ruff and Wilson, 1999)

  • Range elevation
    -77 to 4000 m
    -252.62 to 13123.36 ft

Physical Description

This mouse is slender, long-tailed, and has large, naked ears. These mice range in length from 118 to 170 mm. The tail is shorter than the body, measuring between 50 and 96 cm. Western harvest mice typically weigh between 8 and 17 g. The upper incisors have distinct lengthwise grooves. There is no apparent difference in size or coloration between males and females.

The color of the fur on the back ranges from pale-gray to brown, and the fur on the belly ranges from white to deep gray. There is a dark stripe down the middle of the back and along the forehead. There are 3 pelages categories: juvenile, sub-adult, and adult. The juvenile pelage is relatively short and woolly, with grayish brown color. Sub-adult pelage is longer, thicker, and brighter than that of a juvenile. Adult pelage is characterized by one of two patterns. The summer pelage is short and sparse, with brown above and grayish below. The stripe down the back is not clearly demarcated in the summer pelage. The winter pelage, in contrast, is thicker, longer, and paler than the summer pelage. (Keienburg, et al., 1990; Ruff and Wilson, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    8 to 17 g
    0.28 to 0.60 oz
  • Range length
    118 to 170 mm
    4.65 to 6.69 in
  • Average length
    140 mm
    5.51 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.13 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Reithrodontomys megalotis is a polygynous species, in which the dominant male mates with females during their estrus period. (Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

Few individuals live more than a year. As would be predicted from this short lifespan, young reach sexual maturity early, at about 1 month of age, and full maturity is reached at about 4 to 5 months. This species breeds from early spring to late autumn, foregoing reproduction only in the most severe winter weather. (eNature.com, 2000; Nowak, 1999; Ruff and Wilson, 1999)

Females have a high reproductive potential, having early sexual maturity and short gestation period of 23 to 25 days. The average litter size varies geographically, but is around 4, and as many as 9 pups can be born at one time. (Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

Newborns are born naked, pink and blind. Neonates weigh 1 to 1.5 g, are 7 to 8 mm in length, and are totally helpless. They have a slight coating of fur by the time they start to crawl, around 5 days of age. Their incisiors erupt around this time. The eyes and ears are open by around 11 days of age. The young are weaned by 24 days. Young are reported to leave their natal nest around 3 weeks of age. (eNature.com, 2000; Ruff and Wilson, 1999; Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

Reithrodontomys megalotis is known to undergo a post partum estrus cycle, allowing rapid production of litters. As females reach the age of approximately 45 weeks, there is a reduction in litter size, signalling senility. (Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding interval varies geographically, with animals in mild climates breeding approximately once per month, year round.
  • Breeding season
    Wild western harvest mice breed from early spring to late autumn, foregoing reproduction only in the worst of winter weather..
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 9
  • Average number of offspring
    4
  • Average number of offspring
    3.3
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    23 to 25 days
  • Average weaning age
    24 days
  • Average time to independence
    3 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 to 5 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    107 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 to 5 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    80 days
    AnAge

Females care for their young in a nest made of grass, nursing them for up to 24 days. The young are born blind and helpless, but grow quickly. The young can leave their natal nest as early as three weeks of age. Males apparently play no role in parental care. (Ruff and Wilson, 1999; Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

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

Lifespan/Longevity

Only a few individual reach at the age of 1 year. The maximum reported lifespan for this species is 18 months. (Nowak, 1999; Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    18 (high) months
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    12 (high) months

Behavior

This solitary mouse is nocturnal and mostly active before midnight. Activity is greater on moonless nights or rainy nights. They are sedentary, basing their activity at a nest, and using known runways. Reithrodontomys megalotis is also territorial. (Nowak, 1999; Ruff and Wilson, 1999; Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

It is known that this mouse undergoes torpor when it meets cold temperatures; however, it is unknown if it undergoes true hibernation. (Royal British Columbia Museum, 1995)

Western harvest mice cache food in their nests, and use runways to navigate their environment. They are not opposed to using the runways of other species, such as Microtus and Sigmodon. (Nowak, 1999; Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

Western harvest mice build spherical nests. These are usually located directly on the ground, beneath the cover of grasses, bushes, weeds, or logs. These nests are about 125 mm in diameter. The inside of the nest is usually lined with softer, finer plant material, whereas the outer portion has coarser plant fibers. Access to this nest is provided by one or more holes in the base of the sphere. Occasionally, R. megalotis has been known to build nests in shrubs above ground level, or in burrows. (Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

Like many rodents, R. megalotis seems to be able to get its bearings when it is placed outside of its normal home range. When displaced up to 1000 feet from its normal range, R. megalotis is able to find its way back. (Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

Desity of these mice varies geographically. They have been measured at densities of 11.9 per hectare to only 4 per hectare. One measurement of about 60 mice per hectare was made when the gound vegetation improved and became very dense due to rains. (Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

  • Average territory size
    3,525 m^2

Home Range

Home range size apparently varies with location. In California, home ranges of about 3,525 square meters were reported. (Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

Communication and Perception

Communication patterns have not been reported for these mice. It is likely that they communicate with conspecifics with a combination of olfactory/chemical cues, vocalizations, and tactile communication, as these avenues of communication are prevalent in rodents.

Food Habits

The primary diet of this mouse is seeds. However, it eats anything available at the time, including new growth of plants and insects (grasshoppers and moths). These animals sometimes cache food in their nests. Reithrodontomys megalotis drinks water. (Nowak, 1999; Ruff and Wilson, 1999; Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers

Predation

Because of its small size and abundance, R. megalotis is an important prey species. There are many predators of the western harvest mouse, including owls, hawks, snakes, canids, mustelids, felids, and scorpions. (Royal British Columbia Museum, 1995; Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

Because of their noctural activity, it is likely that these mice have the best opportunity of avoiding predation by nocturnal predators. These mice are most active on very dark nights, which may be a strategy for avoiding predation by animals that use vision to detect prey. (Nowak, 1999)

Ecosystem Roles

This species is essential to western ecosystems. It reproduces rapidly, and lives a very short time, even when removed from the threat of predation. This indicates that the species does not live long in the wild. The most likely source of mortality is predation. (eNature.com, 2000; Nowak, 1999; Ruff and Wilson, 1999; Webster and Jones Jr., 1982)

As a prey species, the availability of R. megalotis likely controls the populations of many predators which rely heavily upon this species in their prey base.

Also, because R. megalotis caches seeds, it probably helps in their dispersal. (Nowak, 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There is no known benefit of this species for humans. However, because they are important in the food web, many of the higher profile animals that people enjoy watching, such as hawks, owls, coyotes, and foxes, rely on them.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no reports of these mice actually damaging crops. However, human agriculture has positively affected R. megalotis, allowing it to extend its geographic range eastward. (Nowak, 1999)

Conservation Status

These mice are thought to be quite common, and not in danger. However, Canada considers R. megalotis vulnerable because it lives in grasslands. Grasslands are a threatened habitat. Also, there is little known about Canadian populations of Western harvest mice. (Royal British Columbia Museum, 1995)

Contributors

Hiromi Konishi (author), Humboldt State University, Brian Arbogast (editor), Humboldt State University.

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

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

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

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

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.

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.

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

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).

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

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

nocturnal

active during the night

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

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"

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

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

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

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

Forsyth, A. 1999. Mammals of North America: temperate and arctic regions. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books.

Keienburg, W., D. Heinemann, S. Schmitz, I. Horn, B. Leyhausen. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals volume 3. McGraw-Hill Publishing Comapny.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Royal British Columbia Museum, 1995. "Endangered Species in Endangered Spaces: Reithrodontomys megalotis" (On-line). Royal British Columbia Museum. Accessed 01/09/04 at http://rbcm1.rbcm.gov.bc.ca/end_species/species/whmous.html.

Ruff, S., D. Wilson. 1999. The Smithsanian Book of North America. Washington: Smithsanian Institution Press.

Webster, W., J. Jones Jr.. 1982. Reithrodontomys megalotis. Mammalian Species, 167: 1-5.

eNature.com, 2000. "Western Harvest Mouse" (On-line). Accessed 01/09/04 at http://www.enature.com/fieldguide/showSpeciesGS.asp?sort=1&curGroupID=99&display=1&area=99&searchText=reithrodontomys+megalotis&curPageNum=1&recnum=MA0098.