Dendromus mystacalischestnut climbing mouse

Geographic Range

Dendromus mystacalis resides in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. It is found along the east African coast south of Somalia and westward to the Atlantic coast in Nigeria. The range extends south to Angola in the west, to the southern tip of South Africa in the east, but most of Namibia and Botswana are excluded from the range. (Kingdon, 1974)


Dendromus mystacalis is common in the banana "shambas" and in grass, herbage, and bush in the African savanna. It does not occur in true forests or in very arid areas. It is noticeably more prevalent where the common weed "namirembe" (Ageratum conyzoides) is abundant. It is a low altitude species, not found at elevations exceding 2,000 meters above sea level. (Delany, 1975; Kingdon, 1974)

  • Range elevation
    2000 (high) m
    6561.68 (high) ft

Physical Description

Dendromus mystacalis is a relatively small mouse for the genus. Females are generally smaller than males. Average measurements are: Head and body 0 (50 to 80) mm, tail 83 (72 to 101) mm, hindfoot 17 (14 to 20) mm, ear 12 (10 to 14) mm, and weight 7 to 17 g. (Delany, 1975; Kingdon, 1974)

All Dendromus have grooved incisors on the upper jaw, a tail greater than 60 mm in length, and only 3 well-developed digits on their front feet. The hindfeet are normal, but have a short hallux. The second digit is about as long as the fifth digit. The fur on the back is dark yellowish-brown on the tips, while the bases of the hairs are a slate color. The fur on the ventrum is lighter - usually white or light brown. Other Dendromus have a dorsal stripe. Normally, D. mystacalis does not, but there are variations. Some show a "vestigial stripe" and a few have an obvious dorsal stripe. The color of the fur can range from a pale sandy brown to a rich, moderately dark brown. (Delany, 1975; Kingdon, 1974)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    7 to 17 g
    0.25 to 0.60 oz
  • Range length
    50 to 80 mm
    1.97 to 3.15 in
  • Average length
    70 mm
    2.76 in


The sexual dimorphism in size seen in this species might be indicative of some competition between males for access to females, and therefore some level of polygyny. However, not much is known about the mating system of D. mysticalis. (Delany, 1975; Kingdon, 1974)

Breeding season and gestation time of D. mystacalis are not known. Adult females have 8 mammae. Young are born primarily between November and January near the equator, but births in other months have been documented in Eastern Zaire and Uganda. In northern Rhodesia, fetuses have been observed during May, and juveniles have been observed during February, March, May, June, and December. Litters consist of 3 to 4 naked and blind offspring. Young are born in the female's nest. (Ansell, 1960; Delany, 1975; Kingdon, 1974)

  • Breeding interval
    Dendromus mystacalis breeds at least once per year, but an exact interval is not available.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season of this species is not known.
  • Range number of offspring
    3 to 4

Newborn D. mystacalis are born helpless and are nursed in the nest of the female. The period of nursing is not known, nor is the duration of parental care. The role of males in the parental care of this species has not been reported. (Delany, 1975)

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


The life span for D. mystacalis has not been determined. However, a closely related species, Dendromus mesomelas, was documented in 1973 to live 3 years and 3 months in captivity. Dendromus mystacalis is probably similar. (Jones, 1982)


Dendromus mystacalis is a nocturnal species, and is almost exclusively arboreal in tall grasses, but if necessary, it can still live on the ground. Its semi-prehensile tail and small size are advantageous in climbing thin and unstable stems. (Delany, 1975; Kingdon, 1974)

Male and female mice build nests that are quite similar to each other. The nests are elevated, being built anywhere from just above the ground up to three meters high. The mice will build nests in bushes, grasses, or trees. The nests are made of shredded banana leaves or long, wiry grass. The inside of the nest is more finely shredded than the outside. Nests are globular with a hole in one side. They are less than 7.35 cm in diameter, and only one adult mouse occupies a nest. The nests are often built lower to the ground, but can be in exposed areas high up in banana trees or other tall vegetation. (Delany, 1975; Kingdon, 1974)

Dendromus mystacalis has successfully adapted to human disturbances. It is often found in gardens, banana trees and bunches, pineapples, sweet potato vines, palms, and thatched roofs. (Kingdon, 1974)

Dendromus mystacalis is an aggressive mouse. It will fight fiercely with other mice, especially with D. melanotis. Individuals of this species appear to be dominant to Mus minutoides and Mus triton individuals, but subordinate to Dendromus melanotis. When D. mystacalis is provoked, it is able to make vertical leaps up to 45 cm. (Delany, 1975; Kingdon, 1974)

Home Range

The home range of D. mystacalis is unknown.

Communication and Perception

Very little information is available on communication in D. mysticalis. However, Like other small rodents, they are likely to use smell and acoustic information extensively, along with vision and touch.

Food Habits

Dendromus mystacalis is omnivorous. Its diet consists of seeds from grasses, foliage, and arthropods. In a study of stomach contents, the grasses and foliage made up more than 75% of the diet, whereas arthropods made up less than 25%. This species is primarily nocturnal, doing its foraging at night. (Delany, 1975; Monadjem, 1997; Smithers, 1971)

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


All Dendromus species are often prey for small African predators. However, details on predation upon this species are lacking. (Smithers, 1971)

Ecosystem Roles

The ranges of D. mystacalis and D. melanotis overlap, and the two species are very aggressive towards each other. The aggressiveness could be an indication of natural competition. Studies show D. melanotis tends to outcompete D. mystacalis. When D. melanotis is present in an ecosystem, D. mystacalis will more often occupy the dry-grass savanna. When D. melanotis is absent, D. mystacalis will more often occupy the wetter areas. (Kingdon, 1974)

Densities of D. mystacalis were reported for Haut Ituri in 1963 as 0.6 mice/ha in savanna with secondary herbaceous growth, 3.6 mice/ha in a marsh, and 19.8 mice/ha in herbaceous growth bordering a marsh (Kingdon, 1974)

In addition to its role in interspecific competition, possibly limiting the distribution of other species of mice, D. mystacalis probably plays some role in dispursing seeds which it eats. As a prey species, D. mystacalis probably affects predator populations. As an insect predator, these mice probably have some impact on insect populations.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Several national parks in Africa (Malolotja National Park, for example) list D. mystacalis on their mammal lists. The presence of D. mysticalis may add to the ecotourism in these parks, but this is not likely due to the small size of these mice, their nocturnal habits, and their lack of any overtly charismatic characteristics. However, as a prey species, they probably contribute to maintaining populations of animals which are of greater interest to tourists. ("Malolotja Nature Reserve Mammal Checklist", 2001)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Although D. mystacalis will inhabit banana trees, human structures, and gardens, no negative economic effects have been documented. (Delany, 1975)

Conservation Status

Dendromus mystacalis is not protected under CITES, the IUCN Redlist, or the ESA. ("Cites Appendices I, II, and III", 2002; "IUCN Red List of Threatened and Endanagered Species", 2002; "Species Information: Threatened and Endangered Animals and Plants", 2002)

Other Comments

Other English common names for D. mystacalis include lesser climbing mouse, banana climbing mouse, and chestnut climbing mouse (Delany, 1975; Smithers, 1971; "Nature Word Wide", 2002)

Currently recognized subspecies of D. mystacalis include D. m. jamesoni Wroughton, D. m. whytei Hayman, and D. m. messorius. Dendromus mystacalis messorius is listed by some authors as a separate species. (Ansell, 1960; Smithers, 1971)

Dendromus mystacalis was historically called Dendromus pumilio Wagner. (Ansell, 1960)


Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Cathy Szymanski (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


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


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.


active during the night


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

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


lives alone


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.


Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. 2002. "Cites Appendices I, II, and III" (On-line ). Accessed 3 Dec 2002 at

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2002. "IUCN Red List of Threatened and Endanagered Species" (On-line ). Accessed 3 Dec 2002 at

Swaziland National Trust Commission. 2001. "Malolotja Nature Reserve Mammal Checklist" (On-line ). Accessed 4 Nov 2002 at

World Institute for Conservation and Environment. 2002. "Nature Word Wide" (On-line ). Accessed 1 Dec 2002 at

United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 2002. "Species Information: Threatened and Endangered Animals and Plants" (On-line ). Accessed 3 Dec 2002 at

Ansell, W. 1960. The Mammals of Northern Rhodesia. Lusaka, Zambia: The Government Printer.

Delany, M. 1975. The Rodents of Uganda. London, England:

Jones, M. 1982. Longevity of captive animals. Zoological Garten, 52: 115-128.

Kingdon, J. 1974. East African Mammals. An Atlas of Evolution in Africa IIB. London, England: Academic Press.

Monadjem, A. 1997. Stomach contents of 19 species of small mammals from Swaziland. South African Journal of Zoology, 32: 23-26.

Smithers, R. 1971. The Mammals of Botswana. Salisbury, Rhodesia: Mardon Printers Ltd..