Onychomys arenicolaMearns's grasshopper mouse

Geographic Range

Onychomys arenicola, Mearns grasshopper mouse, has a limited distribution in the southwestern portion of North America. It can be found in south-central New Mexico, extreme western Texas, and northeastern Mexico. (Clary, et al., 15 July 1999; Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Hinesly, 1979)


Mearns' grasshopper mouse habitat in Texas includes low, arid, sandy or gravelly desert areas where the principle vegetation consists of creosote brush, mesquite, yucca, lechuguilla, and condalia. In New Mexico it is associated with desert grasslands dominated by black grama and mesa dropseed with occasional soaptree yucca and Mormon tea, annual and perennial forbes and grasses.

This mouse is found at elevations ranging from 1,340 m to 1,580 m. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Hinesly, 1979; Kay, 1998)

  • Range elevation
    1340 to 1580 m
    4396.33 to 5183.73 ft

Physical Description

Onychomys arenicola is a small mouse with a fat tail. It has a cinnamon-pink or grayish dorsal side and a white ventral side. At the base of each ear on the front side, there is usually a white or grayish tuft of fur. The nose, cheeks and sides are white. The tail of this mouse is sparsely haired and bicolored, with dark above and white below. The tail makes up more than about 1/3 of total length of the mouse, and is 2.5 times as long as the hind foot length. This species is similar to Onychomys leucogaster, but smaller, with a relatively longer tail and smaller teeth. It is also similar in appearance to Onychomys torridus, but is smaller in every measurement except the nasal length of the skull.

Juveniles look like adults, but their upper parts are bluish-gray.

The total length of adults averages 146 mm, the tail averages 52 mm, and the hind foot averages 21 mm. The weight of adult males ranges between 24 and 30 g, with an average of 26.5 g. Females are lighter, typically weighing between 22 and 28 g, and averaging 25 g. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Hinesly, 1979)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    22 to 30 g
    0.78 to 1.06 oz
  • Average mass
    25-26.5 g
  • Average length
    146 mm
    5.75 in


The mating system of these mice has not been reported. They are presumed to be polygynous, although in congeneric species, males and females are known to associate in pairs throughout the year, and may be monogamous. (Nowak, 1999; Nowak, 1999)

Breeding begins in late January or early February and continues into September. Gestation period is 26 to 35 days. Litter size varies between two and seven. Half-grown young have been captured in April, June, July, and August, suggesting these mice produce two to three litters per year. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997)

Although data are scarce for O. arenicola, in general, mice in this genus weigh about 2.6 g at birth. Their eyes open at about 2 weeks of age. Young mice are typically weaned around 3 weeks of age. (Nowak, 1999)

Females in this genus become sexually mature at seven to eight weeks of age. A young female can give birth to her first litter at four months of age. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997b)

  • Breeding interval
    It is likely that these mice breed approximately three times per year, all in the spring and early summer months.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from January through September.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 7
  • Range gestation period
    26 to 35 days
  • Average weaning age
    3 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 months

The young are born without much ability to move around. Their eyes are closed. Females nurse their offspring and care for them in a nest. It is not known whether the male participates in parental care. (Nowak, 1999)

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


Grasshopper mice kept in pairs in captivity reached an average age of barely four years, five years at the most. The lifespan of thse mice in the wild has not been reported. (Niethammer, 2001)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    4 to 4 years


The behavior of O. arenicola is similar to that of O. leucogaster. These mice are primarily solitary, and predatory with proportionally large home ranges (about 2 ha). These mice never remain in one place for very long, constantly moving around their home ranges in search of food.

These mice live in burrows which they have either entered after the burrow has been abandoned by its original owner, or which they sometimes invade and overtake by force.

Onychomys arenicola shows very strong aggression toward other members of the same species and cannibalism has been observed much more frequently than in other rodents. It has been suggested that these mice may live in male/female pairs year round, although this would seem to shorten the lifespan, as one of the pair inevitably kills the other.

Aggression within the species is so strong that in 90 tests, in which two animals of the same sex were placed in 5x5 m cages, 70% of fights ended with the death of the loser within twenty-four hours.

Mating behavior has been described as quite complicated, surely a result of avoiding fatal aggressive encounters.

Onychomys arenicola hunt their prey like most sophisticated predators, stalking prey in an almost feline manner. Prior to attacking, or when faced with an adversary, these mice stand on their hind limbs, point their nose upward, and let out a shrill, piercing cry which lasts between 0.7 and 1.2 seconds. The function of this vocalization is not known. Humans can hear this cry up to 100 m away. It has been compared with a wolf's howl. After vocalizing, the mouse will rush toward and seize its prey, killing the hapless victim with a bite to the head.

Because of their short legs and chunky bodies, these grasshopper mice are not very quick footed. However, they are expert at dodging, twisting, and turning. In close quarters they can easily capture and overpower other mice of the same size or larger, a skill that probably helps them in their encounters with conspecifics. (Clary, et al., 1999; Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Niethammer, 2001; Nowak, 1999)

Home Range

The home range of these animals is approximately 2 hectares.

Communication and Perception

Members of the genus Onychomys are known to make different vocalizations in different social contexts, including a "chit" sound during aggression, and a soft "chirp" during mating. This indicates that acoustic communication is important in this species. Fighing behavior most certainly could be considered a form of tactile communication. Tactile communication is probably also important between a mother and her young and between mates. It is likely that there are also visual and chemical signals passing between conspecifics, as is common in most mammals. (Nowak, 1999)

Food Habits

The feeding habits of Mearns' grasshopper mouse are similar to those of Onychomys leucogaster.

Their diet consists mostly of other animals (about 90%) but also a variety of plants (10%). They feed mostly on insects (including grasshoppers, scorpions, beetles, and crickets), but will attack and eat other small mammals, including other grasshopper mice.

The stomach of this species is interesting, because the peptic and muriatic glands are disposed in a special pocket, perhaps to protect them from damage by the chitin in their food. They are reported to cache food. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Davis and Schmidly, 1997b)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


Onychomys arenicola avoids predators by spending daytime hours inside burrows. Their most active time coincides with little to no moonlight; that is before the moon rises, after it sets, during new moon phases, or during overcast conditions. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Niethammer, 2001)

Given its habitat and nocturnal lifestyle, the most likely predators of this species are owls, snakes, and carnivorous mammals like coyotes and bobcats.

Ecosystem Roles

As a predator, O. arenicola probably helps to regulate certain insect populations. As a prey species, abundance of O. arenicola may help to regulate populations of its predators. However, because it does not occur at very high densities, it is not likely to be a very important component of the diet of any predator.

Due tot heir seed caching behavior, it is possible that these animals also help to disperse seeds of certain plants.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Due to their strong territoriality and predatory nature, O. arenicola can be beneficial to people. O. arenicola can be beneficial by negatively impacting populations of small rodents and insects, species that may have negative affects on human practices such as agriculture.

Members of the genus Onochomys are reported to make docile and fascinating pets, indicating that these animals present some value to the pet trade. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Nowak, 1999)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

When the supply of food is low, grasshopper mice have been known to eat and or cache plant matter. This may result in negative affects on human agriculture. (Niethammer, 2001; Nowak, 1999)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

No special conservation issues are currently recognized, but due to the geographic isolation and ecology of this species, habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation could significantly influence population dynamics.

Other Comments

In previous articles O. arenicola was combined with O. torridus; however, recent genetic work has recognized Mearns grasshopper mouse as a separate species. In southwestern New Mexico, O. arenicola was found to be specifically distinct from O. torridus when a contact zone between the two species was found and no hybridization or back crosses, based on karyotypes, occurred. (Davis and Schmidly, 1997; Hnida, et al., 1998)


Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Evan Lautzenheiser (author), Humboldt State University, Brian Arbogast (editor), Humboldt State University.



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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


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


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


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

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

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

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.


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


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.


Clary, M., D. Bell, C. Edwards, T. Jolley, O. Knyazhnitskiy. 1999. "A checklist of mammals from twelve habitat types at Fort Bliss Military Base; 1997-1998" (On-line). Accessed Nov 1, 2001 at http://www.nsrl.ttu.edu/pubs/opapers/ops/OP192.pdf.

Clary, M., D. Bell, C. Edwards, T. Jolley, O. Knyazhnitskiy. 15 July 1999. Checklist of mammals from twelve habitat types at Fort Bliss Military Base; 1997-1998. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Texas Tech University: 1-16.

Davis, W., D. Schmidly. 1997. "The Mammals of Texas, Online Edition. Mearns Grasshopper Mouse" (On-line). Accessed Oct. 28, 2001 at http://www.nsrl.ttu.edu./tmot1/onycaren.htm.

Davis, W., D. Schmidly. 1997b. "The Mammals of Texas, Online Edition. Northern Grasshopper Mouse" (On-line). Accessed Oct. 28, 2001 at http://www.nsrl.ttu.edu./tmot1/onycleuc.htm.

Hinesly, L. 1979. Systematics and distribution of two chromosome forms in the Southern Grasshopper Mouse; Genus Onychomys. Journal of Mammalogy: 117-128.

Hnida, J., W. Wilson, D. Duszynski. 1998. A new Eimeria species (Apicomplexa:Eimeriidae) infecting Onychomys species (Rodentis:Muridae)in New Mexico and Arizona. Journal of Parasitology: 1207-1209.

Kay, F. 1998. Influence of habitat vegetative condition on trap response of rodents associated with burrow mounds of Dipodomys spectabilis in a desert grassland. The Southwestern Naturalist: 269-273.

Niethammer, J. 2001. Grzimek's Encyclopedia Mammals; Grasshopper Mice (Genus Onychomys). Hastings-on-Hudson, New York: The Language Service, Inc..

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