Rodents make up 40 percent of the population of mammals on the planet today. Mice make up a considerable percentage of the rodent family. The Arizona Senora Desert Museum has done extensive research on mice and concludes that these rodents are among the most successful mammal groups on the planet. One of the reasons mice have been so successful as a mammal group is because they are highly adaptable animals, with species that inhabit nearly all environments on Earth. When it comes to the question of whether mice live in the desert, the answer is a resounding “yes” – and this article explains why and how.
Specific Mouse Species in U.S. Deserts
Around the world, an array of different types of rodents inhabit deserts. In the United States, there is a trio of mouse species that are more commonly found in deserts. These mice inhabit deserts throughout the Southwest and into California. These species of mice are:
- Grasshopper mouse
- Pocket mouse
- Merriam’s mouse
The grasshopper mouse is arguably one of the most poorly named rodents. The name suggests that this species of mouse might dine on grasshoppers or other insects. This is not the case. In the alternative, the name might also suggest that the animal bops about like a grasshopper. This is somewhat descriptive.
What really distinguishes the grasshopper mouse from other mice is not the fact that it occasionally hops. Rather, the grasshopper mouse is set apart from others because it hunts and kills other mice.
The pocket mouse is another of this species that lives in the desert. The pocket mouse thrives in the desert because this species requires little water and only a small amount of food. As is the case with all mice, the pocket mouse is a generally nocturnal animal that spends the day tucked away in underground burrows.
Another benefit the pocket mouse has is its fur color. A pocket mouse has sandy-colored fur. This permits it to easily blend in with a desert environment and allows it to avoid predators as a result.
Merriam’s mouse is a close relative of the “standard” pocket mouse discussed a moment ago. This species of mouse also lives in a desert environment and can be found in the Southwest United States and into California.
A Merriam’s mouse has yellowish fur on the top of its body that has a dark sheen. The dark sheen is caused by longer guard hairs that are interspersed throughout the fur on the animal’s upper body. These guard hairs have dark tips.
Health Dangers Associated with Desert-Dwelling Mice
Desert-dwelling mice can threaten the health and wellbeing of humans. The trio of mice mentioned previously can carry bacteria and viruses that can result in illness and even serious illness in human beings.
The most common disease that desert-dwelling mice carry is salmonella. Salmonella typically is spread through mice droppings and urine that ends up contaminating food and beverages. When an individual is exposed to food or beverages contaminated in this manner, they can contract what commonly is called salmonella poisoning or food poisoning.
The possibility exists that desert-dwelling mice might also carry the hantavirus. The hantavirus was first identified in deer mice in the United States. These mice do not live in desert regions, but they are found in many parts of the country. For example, deer mice droppings were responsible for early hantavirus infections suffered by people in the Four Corners region of the United States. The region is not a desert environment per se, but it is in relatively close proximity to desert areas. Thus, it is possible that the virus is carried by desert-dwelling mice that have migrated to or from the Four Corners region.
The hantavirus is also spread via mouse droppings. The hantavirus can survive even in dried mouse droppings for an extended period of time. Dried mouse droppings crumble easily, causing mouse feces dust (and associated bacteria or viruses) to become airborne. Hence, it is possible for people to inhale this dust and end up contracting hantavirus.
Desert-Dwelling Mice and Residential and Commercial Properties
Home and business owners need to be on guard against desert-dwelling mice. In a manner akin to the way mice in other regions seek shelter during cold months, the same is true of desert-dwelling mice during the hottest months of the year. These mice are apt to seek shelter and food in homes and businesses in desert communities in the United States.
There are specific signs that a mouse infestation may exist. These signs include:
- Gnaw marks on the physical structure and objects at or in the premises
- Mouse droppings
- Scurrying sounds
- Scratching sounds
Sounds associated with a mouse infestation typically are heard in the evening and at night. As mentioned previously, mice are primarily nocturnal animals and not very active during the day – particularly in a desert region.