Reithrodontomys fulvescensfulvous harvest mouse

Geographic Range

A nearctic species, fulvous harvest mice (Reithrodontomys fulvescens) inhabit a wide range that extends from the central United States, southward through Mexico to Nicaragua.

In the United States, fulvous harvest mice are found as far west as south-central Arizona and as far east as southern Mississippi. Their northernmost extent is southeastern Nebraska and southwestern Missouri. Their range continues southward through Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas, but is nearly absent in New Mexico. These mice inhabit nearly all of Mexico (except Baja California and Yucatan peninsulas). The southernmost extent of their range includes the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

Fifteen to 17 subspecies reportedly exist for Reithrodontomys fulvescens, and these subspecies appear to be separated both by geographic location, elevation, and by minor pelage differences. Most subspecies occur in Mexico, while the U.S. includes just four: Reithrodontomys fulvescens fulvescens in far southeastern Arizona, Reithrodontomys fulvescens intermedius in southern Texas, Reithrodontomys fulvescens canus in western Texas, and Reithrodontomys fulvescens aurantius in eastern Texas northward. (Cassola, 2016; Packard, 1968; Spencer and Cameron, 1982; Trani, et al., 2007)


Fulvous harvest mice typically are abundant in tropical or temperate terrestrial biomes that consist of open-canopied, grassy, shrub-containing meadows and fallow fields. The thick vegetation provides food and also cover from predators. Fulvous harvest mice also inhabit edges of pine (Pinus) forests, brushy creek bottoms, and mesquite (Prosopis) grasslands. Fulvous harvest mice likely inhabit pine-grasslands due to the presence and diversity of herbaceous plant material. They have also been known to occupy sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), cottonwood (Populus), and rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus) riparian habitats.

Across their wide geographic range, the species that dominate grasslands and the types of grasslands vary markedly. For example, in Texas they can be found in broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus) and pine ecotones, grassy fields, marshy areas, weedy fencerows, briar thickets along fields, coastal prairies, and unmaintained areas along highways. They have also been found in rocky outcrops and cacti in Central America. Fulvous harvest mice in Louisiana were found in thick marsh vegetation and along fencerows. They were also documented in fresh and coastal marsh edges, uncultivated fields, and briar thickets bordering woodlands. This resembles populations studied in Arkansas, where they are often found in fields with mixed grass, shrubs, and vines.

Packard (1968) reported that fulvous harvest mice are known to inhabit arid grasslands in central America which consist of high temperatures and sandy, rocky soil. Cacti, thorny shrubs, and grass are common in these regions. In central Mexico, they are known to occupy humid lowlands that consist of tropical vegetation and savannas. They have also been found in tropical evergreen forests in Sierra Madre and areas with conifer trees in the mountains.

Although Cassola (2016) reports an upper elevation limit of 1,700 m, Packard (1968) found them at 2590.8 m near Mexico City. (Best and Hunt, 2020; Cassola, 2016; Clark, et al., 2005; Hooper, 1952; Masters, et al., 1998; Packard, 1968; Spencer and Cameron, 1982; Trani, et al., 2007)

  • Range elevation
    2590.8 (high) m
    8500.00 (high) ft

Physical Description

Fifteen to 17 subspecies reportedly exist for Reithrodontomys fulvescens, and these subspecies appear to be separated by geographic location, elevation, and by minor morphometric differences. Such morphometric differences include those for cranial measures, total and tail lengths. Subtle pelage differences also exist among subspecies. For this species account, ranges across all subspecies are collectively described.

Fulvous harvest mice are rodents that weigh 9 to 14 g, with total lengths ranging from 133 to 203 mm. The distinctly bicolored tail (dorsal side of the tail is brown, ventral side is grayish white) can range from 73 to 117 mm, and can be 10% to 50% longer than the length of their head and body combined. Their hind foot length ranges from 15 to 22 mm, and ear lengths are 12 to 19 mm. Males are often larger than females, though quantitative differences have not been published. No sexual dichromatism exists for fulvous harvest mice.

Pelage varies depending on the geographic location and molting stage of an individual. Color variations by age are less obvious in fulvous harvest mice than other members of the genus. In the southeastern United States, the dorsal coloration is yellowish-brown, and the mid-dorsal region is a mix of black and brown hairs. The ventrum is grayish white with a tan tint, while lateral regions and ears are a reddish-yellow to orangish color. Their feet are white, grayish, or tan. The coarse texture of the pelage is also a distinguishing feature of fulvous harvest mice. In humid areas, pelage is a mixture of black to reddish-brown. Individuals within arid environments tend to have a paler pelage as well as pale ears with internal hairs, and the lateral line may or may not be present. Hooper (1952) reported at least 3 age-related pelage transitions for those in genus Reithrodontomys. The dense pelage of juveniles consists of long black guard hairs and short cover hairs, giving the coat a grizzly appearance. During the juvenile stage, the fur is the darkest. The subadult pelage consists of a coarser texture, with colors not obvious in juveniles. Distinctive markings like eye rings, dorsal stripes, and lateral lines are well defined during this stage. The adult pelage is the brightest of the three stages and has the most obvious distinctive markings.

Fulvous harvest mice can be characterized by their deeply grooved upper incisors, and can be differentiated from other members of the genus through their molars. Only hairy harvest mice (Reithrodontomys hirsutus) share this trait. In fulvous harvest mice, there are three folds in the enamel of the teeth. The first and second primary folds are nearly equal in length, whereas in other species, the first primary fold is shorter than the second (Hooper, 1952).

Young fulvous harvest mice are born blind and hairless. Newborns weigh about 1 to 1.2g, and hair begins to emerge by day 3 or 4. Total yearly energy costs were estimated by Spencer and Cameron (1982) to be around 2,759.3 kcal/year per harvest mouse, and most of this energy is derived from their diet of seeds and invertebrates. (Best and Hunt, 2020; Hooper, 1952; Schwartz, 1981; Spencer and Cameron, 1982; Trani, et al., 2007)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    9 to 14 g
    0.32 to 0.49 oz
  • Range length
    133 to 203 mm
    5.24 to 7.99 in


Fulvous harvest mice exhibit a polygynous mating system where male mice mate with multiple females. Males typically occupy larger territories than females, and they associate with females whose ranges they overlap.

Fulvous harvest mice build compact, spherical nests resembling the size of a baseball on the surface of the ground under bushes, matted grass, or weeds. Nests can also be located above ground from several centimeters to approximately 1 m in vines, bushes, or low trees. Golden harvest mice (Reithrodontomys fulvescens aurantius) construct their nests of marsh vegetation like common reed (Phragmites australis), saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens var. juncea), and maidencane (Panicum hemitomum). There is usually one opening on the lower side, and the nest is made up of plant fibers. Nests often have an inner layer of soft material, such as fine grass. Spencer and Cameron (1982) reported nest walls were thicker in winter months and thinner in summer months. They have also been known to occupy bird nests that are no longer in use. (Best and Hunt, 2020; Green, et al., 2012; Hooper, 1952; Palmer, 1954; Spencer and Cameron, 1982)

Throughout their range, the breeding season for fulvous harvest mice extends from February to October with bimodal peak reproductive trends in late spring-early summer and late summer-early autumn. In more southern parts of their range, such as in Central America, breeding may occur year-round.

The number of offspring can range from 1 to 7 individuals, with females more typically giving birth to litters of 2 to 4. The gestation period can last 21 to 23 days, and birth mass is between 1 to 1.2 g. The female begins to wean her offspring and cease parental care between 13 to 16 days. The offspring become independent and leave the nest at around 5 weeks of age. Males and females reach sexual maturity at 2 to 3 months. Climbing behavior is developed by 12 to 13 days, and young mice were capable of rolled oats (Avena sativa), cheese, and milo seeds (Sorghum bicolor) at 14 days in captivity.

Fulvous harvest mice build round, baseball sized nests either on the ground under bushes and weeds, or a few centimeters above ground in low trees or bushes. Grassy material is used to construct the compact nests, and nest walls are modified according to the temperature of the surrounding environment.

Skupski (1995) found that reproduction in female western harvest mice (Reithrodontomys megalotis) was facultative. If conditions were favorable, the females would reproduce but if they were unfavorable they would forego reproduction. This is common in habitats with large variations in food supply, habitat quality, and precipitation. They also found that males were ready to mate at any time of the year, whereas females were less so due to the energy expenditure required to successfully produce and raise a litter. Goheen et al. (2002) found that litter size and maternal body size were directly correlated in female western harvest mice, and that western harvest mice initiated reproduction following the onset of vegetative growth in the spring. It is likely that fulvous harvest mice exhibit similar reproductive trends. The female estrous cycle of fulvous harvest mice is not well known, but Packard (1968) proposed that they follow a diestrous cycle and may exhibit polyester in more southern parts of their range. (Best and Hunt, 2020; Cameron, 1977; Clark, et al., 2005; Goheen, et al., 2002; Hooper, 1952; Joule and Cameron, 1980; Palmer, 1954; Skupski, 1995; Spencer and Cameron, 1982; Stalling, 1997; Trani, et al., 2007; Weigl, 2005)

  • Breeding interval
    Peak reproductive trends occur in late spring and early autumn in the southeastern United States. In more southern ranges, such as in central America, reproduction may occur year-round.
  • Breeding season
    Throughout its range, breeding season extends from February to October.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 7
  • Range gestation period
    21 to 23 days
  • Range weaning age
    13 to 16 days
  • Average time to independence
    5 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 to 3 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 to 3 months

Males provide no parental care beyond the act of mating. Females lactate and presumably protect their young in nests until they become independent. Females carry their young between 21 to 23 days and begin the weaning process after 13 to 16 days. At around 5 weeks, juveniles become independent and begin to leave their nest. (Best and Hunt, 2020; Packard, 1968; Trani, et al., 2007)


The expected lifespan for wild fulvous harvest mice ranges from 11 to 15 months. Males have a greater maximum longevity (14-15 months) than females (11-12 months). Males likely have an extended lifespan due to the energy expenditure females utilize to successfully birth and care for offspring.

No maximum age has been reported for fulvous harvest mice in captivity, but one western harvest mouse reportedly lived at least 3.6 years, and eastern harvest mice can live up to 2.2 years in captivity. (Best and Hunt, 2020; Stalling, 1997; Trani, et al., 2007; Weigl, 2005)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    11 to 15 months


Fulvous harvest mice are scansorial, nocturnal rodents and are active shortly after sunset until sunrise. Even in laboratory settings where there are not well-defined periods of light and dark, activity occurred at natural times of light and dark, suggestive of an endogenous rhythm. They are active year-round, though they may enter torpor at some points during the winter. In cold temperatures, their hair length increases and thermoregulation is the source of their greatest energy expenditure in the spring, fall, and winter. Body weight seemingly varies with seasonal and environmental changes, likely due to resource availability and habitat quality for the fulvous harvest mice.

Little is known regarding the sociality of fulvous harvest mice, but Packard (1968) found that - when confined in laboratory conditions - individuals of both sexes across all age groups were highly tolerant of one another. Packard also noted that neither sex demonstrated territorial behavior. (Best and Hunt, 2020; Clark, et al., 2005; Packard, 1968; Palmer, 1954; Skupski, 1995; Spencer and Cameron, 1982; Trani, et al., 2007)

Home Range

Home range has been reported at around 0.1 ha, and males often occupy a larger home range than females. Males likely possess a larger home range so that they have greater access to potential mates for reproduction. There is also a positive association between body mass and home range for fulvous harvest mice, with larger individuals generally occupying a larger home range. (Skupski, 1995; Spencer and Cameron, 1988; Trani, et al., 2007)

Communication and Perception

Like many other mammals, fulvous harvest mice rely on traditional senses such as vision, touch, smell, and taste to perceive the world around them. Because they are nocturnal, their vision has likely evolved to help them better navigate dark conditions, as seen in other rodents. In general, mice can hear best at frequencies between 15 to 20 kHz.

Fulvous harvest mice are macrosmatic mammals that rely on their sense of smell to find food and avoid predation. Their whiskers aid in providing tactile cues of their environment, which help in navigation and foraging. Gire et al. (2016) also found that fulvous harvest mice pick up cues from their environment and use accumulated learned behaviors to make decisions about foraging and movement instantaneously.

The social structure and ways in which fulvous harvest mice communicate are not well studied, though males have been known to make high-pitched bugling sounds when sexually excited. Other audible vocalizations within the genus Reithrodontomys are anecdotal and have not been studied, but are likely rare as in other adult muroid rodents that are natural prey animals. Engstrom (2010) reported that while audible vocalizations may be rare in adult rodents, ultrasonic vocal frequencies are a common communication pathway. They also speculated calls exhibited by harvest mice served as announcement or sexual identity signals. It has been found that they produce polysyllabic signals and possess subharmonics. Cawthorn and Rose (1989) speculated harvest mice are highly social given the number of individuals observed or trapped together, especially during colder temperatures where thermoregulation is critical. (Best and Hunt, 2020; Cawthorn and Rose, 1989; Ehret and Riecke, 2002; Engstrom, 2010; Gire, et al., 2016; Leinonen and Tanila, 2018)

Food Habits

Fulvous harvest mice feed opportunistically on nitrogen-rich insects and seeds. Approximately 90% of the annual diet of these mice are composed of insects that are often consumed in the spring and summer. Seeds are the primary source of food in autumn and winter, and they often drive the timing of reproduction. The leaves of herbs are also consumed by fulvous harvest mice in small amounts.

Diet composition varies in fulvous harvest mice depending on the season and geographic location. Vázquez et al. (2004) found that the diet of fulvous harvest mice consists mostly of dicot leaves and stems, dicot seeds, dicot fruit, monocots, monocot seeds, and insects. Diets of fulvous harvest mice were analyzed at two habitats: a mature clouded forest and disturbed cloud forest in Mexico. During dry-hot seasons (March-June) in the mature cloud forest, the diet of fulvous harvest mice consisted of the following material: 13.7% dicot leaves and stems, 41% dicot seeds, 3.9% dicot fruit, 19.5% monocots, and 21.9% insects. During wet seasons (July-October) in the mature cloud forest, fulvous harvest mice consumed 16.3% dicot leaves and stems, 35.4% dicot seeds, 38.8% dicot fruit, 6.6% monocots, and 2.9% insects. During the dry-cold season (November-February) in the same forest, diets consisted of 25.3% dicot leaves and stems, 34.3% dicot seeds, 28.7% dicot fruit, 9.7% monocots, and 2.1% insects. In the disturbed cloud forest during dry-hot seasons, fulvous harvest mice consumed 57.7% dicot leaves and stems, 25% dicot seeds, 4.3% monocot seeds, 10.8% monocots, and 2.2% insects. During wet seasons in the disturbed cloud forest, the diets of these mice consisted of 32.1% dicots, 52.4% dicot seeds, 4.2% monocot seeds, 9.4% monocots, and 1.9% insects. During dry-cold seasons in the disturbed cloud forest, 28.3% dicots, 55% dicot seeds, 7.2% monocot seeds, 6.1% monocots, and 3.5% insects were consumed by fulvous harvest mice. (Parsons, et al., 2005; Schmidly and Bradley, 2016; Skupski, 1995; Spencer and Cameron, 1985; Vázquez, et al., 2004)

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


Fulvous harvest mice provide a source of food for many animals, including snakes, hawks, and owls. Pellets of western burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia hypugaea), barn owls (Tyto alba), and barred owls (Strix varia) contain remains of harvest mice. Remains of fulvous harvest mice have also been found in the stomachs of red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) and the scat of ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) and bobcats (Lynx rufus). (Booth-Binczik, et al., 2013; Schwartz, 1981; Williford, et al., 2009)

Ecosystem Roles

Fulvous harvest mice consume seeds and insects, and provide food and nutrition for carnivorous predators such as snakes, hawks, owls, bobcats (Lynx rufus), and ocelots (Leopardus pardalis).

Fulvous harvest mice are known to be utilized by common ectoparasites of mammals, including ticks (order Ixodida), fleas (Polygenis), and mites (Echinonyssus microchelae, Prolistrophorus bakeri, and Myocoptes musculinus). They are also vulnerable to larval botflies (Cuterebra) and internal parasites such as coccidians that may include Eimeria arizonensis. (Best and Hunt, 2020; Boggs, et al., 1991; Estebanes-Gonzalez, et al., 2011; Mantooth, et al., 2000; Schwartz, 1981; Upton, et al., 1992)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Ticks (order Ixodida)
  • Fleas (Polygenis)
  • Mites (Echinonyssus microchelae)
  • Mites (Prolistrophorus bakeri)
  • Mites (Myocoptes musculinus)
  • Larval botflies (Cuterebra)
  • Coccidians (Eimeria arizonensis)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Fulvous harvest mice provide no monetary benefits for humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Hantavirus antibodies have been detected in the blood of wild fulvous harvest mice, though it is not known how transmissible the disease is from fulvous harvest mice to humans. Sanchez-Cordero and Martinez-Meyer (2000) found that fulvous harvest mice have the potential to be crop pests, especially of grain, in Mexico. (Best and Hunt, 2020; Mantooth, et al., 2000; Palmer, 1954; Sanchez-Cordero and Martinez-Meyer, 2000)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Fulvous harvest mice are a species of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List. They have no special status on the U.S. Federal List, CITES, or the State of Michigan List. However, in New Mexico, fulvous harvest mice are listed as an S1 imperiled species.

In areas in which toxic chemicals (such as petrochemicals) were disposed, fulvous harvest mice became entirely absent. Habitat fragmentation and dispersal barriers are also threats to fulvous harvest mice. Hantavirus antibodies have been found in blood samples retrieved from fulvous harvest mice, though infection by the virus has not been verified.

Fulvous harvest mice can be found in national parks across the country, thereby protected according to the standards of national parks in which they are naturally found. There are no special conservation measures that have been implemented for this particular species. (Best and Hunt, 2020; Cassola, 2016; Mantooth, et al., 2000; Wilson, 2002)


Sierra Felty (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Genevieve Barnett (editor), Colorado 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


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


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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


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).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


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


having more than one female as a mate at one time


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


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

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


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.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

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 sound above the range of human hearing for either navigation or communication or both


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.


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