Answers to Go with Susan Smith
Q. We were traveling through New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert when we stopped at White Sands. One of the trails includes signs about the mostly nocturnal animals found there. The "howling" grasshopper mouse was especially memorable. Are they found in Texas?
A. According to “The Mammals of Texas” by William B. Davis and David J. Schmidly, these tiny carnivores are found in the Lone Star state. The map in this book shows that the northern grasshopper mouse is found in both western and southern Texas. However, their range does not seem to include Hays County.
The following information on these mice comes from an online New Mexico Game and Fish publication, “Wildlife Notes.”
“Emerging from its den, a predator lifts its muzzle to the sky and fills the dusk with a blood-chilling howl. Sniffing the night air and sneaking quietly through vegetation, it searches for prey and soon finds an unwary herbivore munching on a grass stem.
“A careful stalk, a headlong rush, and the herbivore hangs lifeless from the hunter's jaw. Soon all that remain of the prey are a few legs and small drops of blood.
“Sound pretty ferocious? It is, yet the predator is found all over New Mexico. A common animal, it lives both in isolated areas and in close proximity to humans. It can even be found in back yards. Ferocious this predator may be, but there's no need to get alarmed about the family dogs, cats, or children being eaten because this animal is the grasshopper mouse and is only four to six inches long.
“While most mice are herbivores, eating seeds and plant matter, grasshopper mice are carnivorous. They mostly eat insects but will tackle larger prey, including other mice species and lizards.
“Grasshopper mice are well-equipped for a predatory life-style with their long, sharp incisors.
“Topping that off is the grasshopper mouse's habit of howling before hunting, although the call might be better described as a squeal, given the mouse's diminutive size.” (If you like You-Tube videos, try Googling “howling mouse” to see these mice rear up on the hind legs and howl coyote-style.
“One man's captive mouse howled routinely at dusk and whenever the man dropped an insect or house mouse into the grasshopper mouse's enclosure. This howl serves much the same purpose as for a wolf; it's a territorial marker, the mouse's way of saying to other mice, ‘Here I am.'
“Another characteristic of grasshopper mice is their gait. They don't hop and jump like other mice; they run like larger mammals. Their gait is a bit like a badger's.
“Grasshopper mice live in burrows dug by other animals. Their predatory habits make them basically solitary animals.
“The northern grasshopper mouse weighs about two ounces. Their fur is short and soft, not coarse like that of many of many other mice. The overall effect creates a rather handsome mouse.
“In New Mexico, the grasshopper mouse is a desert or prairie resident.
Southern grasshopper mice occur in the southern half of the state. The northern version occurs statewide and continues on up into Canada. The two species overlap only in southern New Mexico, southern Arizona and west Texas.
They are fairly common rodents though they are not commonly seen or captured. One way biologists study small mammal populations is by trapping them, using peanut butter and oats as bait. Because grasshopper mice are predatory, they are neither attracted to this bait nor often caught.
“It's hard to find characteristics to dislike about grasshopper mice. They're handsome, unique predators, and they don't cause anyone any problems.”