Mighty Mouse

Imagine a 100 pound tarantula.  Now imagine an unarmed man attacking the giant tarantula in a fight to the death.  A 100 pound tarantula would quickly kill the best human fighter, even the heavyweight ultimate fighting champion, in seconds.  A human would be unable to grip the stinging hairs on the arthropod’s legs, and the spider would immediately paralyze a human with its venomous fangs.  So the grasshopper mouse (Onchomys leucogaster) deserves our respect because they regularly bite and punch tarantulas and scorpions into submission as the link to the following video shows.  Note the victory roar, or I should say squeal.


Grasshopper mouse.

Mice are thought of as timid animals.  Not so, the grasshopper mouse.  They often tackle and subdue large insects, such as grasshoppers (hence the name).  They also defeat and consume tarantulas, scorpions, lizards, and other mice.  In captivity they’ve been known to kill cotton rats 3 times their size.  They win confrontations with other rodents by biting through the skull.  Grasshopper mice are immune to scorpion and spider venom, explaining how they can battle them with no ill effects.  Meat makes up 90% of their diet, while vegetal matter forms the balance.  This is the opposite diet ratio of their closest relatives–mice of the peromyscus genus.  Scientists believe the 2 species of grasshopper mice diverged from the peromyscus genus during the Miocene.  Grasshopper mice occupy the same ecological niche as the European hedgehog, but they prefer more arid conditions and are often found associated with prairie dog towns.

During the Pleistocene grasshopper mice extended their range at least partially into southeastern North America.  Fossil specimens of grasshopper mice were unearthed at Peccary Cave, Arkansas.

Modern range map of the more widespread species of grasshopper mouse (Onchomys leucogaster).  During the Pleistocene the ranged farther east, at least to Arkansas.

Though there’s no evidence grasshopper mice ever ranged into Georgia, 5 species of the peromyscus genus do live in state.  Deer mice (Peromyscus maniculata) live in the extreme northern mountains of the state.  The white-tailed mouse or wood mouse (P. leucopus) lives in wooded areas throughout the state.  The cotton mouse (P. gossypinus) lives in fields all over the state.  The cotton mouse looks like a white-footed mouse but is larger and has a longer skull.  The old field mouse (P. polionatus)  lives in fields and beach dunes and is also known as the beach mouse.   The attractive golden mouse (P. nuttalli) is restricted to brushy areas covered by vines.  They construct nests in bushes and use vines to travel within their territory.

Old Field Mouse (P. polionatus)

White-footed mouse (P. leucopus)  The cotton mouse looks similar but is longer.

Golden mouse (P. nuttalli)

Fossil evidence from the peromyscus genus has been found at several fossil sites in Georgia, but unless the material includes skulls, scientists can’t determine which species they belong to.  Curiously, my cats have never brought me a specimen of peromyscus, and I conclude they are scarce or absent in my neighborhood.  Mice and voles in general are not common near my house.  The only species of mouse I ever witnessed as a victim of my cats is the non-native house mouse (Mus musculus), and that was just twice.  It may be the cats eat mice before I see them.  Other small mammals my cats have killed include short-tailed shrews, eastern moles, a star-nosed mole, a baby possum, squirrels, rabbits, and I think a pocket gopher.


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