House mouse

House mouse
House mouse
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Muridae
Subfamily: Murinae
Genus: Mus
Subgenus: Mus
Species: M. musculus
Binomial name
Mus musculus
Linnaeus, 1758
  • Mus musculus bactrianus
  • Mus musculus castaneus
  • Mus musculus domesticus
  • Mus musculus gentilulus
  • Mus musculus musculus

The house mouse (Mus musculus) is a small rodent, a mouse, one of the most numerous species of the genus Mus.

As a wild animal the house mouse mainly lives associated with humans, causing damage to crops and stored food.

The house mouse has been domesticated as the pet or fancy mouse, and as the laboratory mouse which is one of the most important model organisms in biology and medicine. It is by far the most commonly used genetically altered laboratory mammal.[2]



House mice have an adult body length (nose to base of tail) of 7.5–10 cm (3.0–3.9 in) and a tail length of 5–10 cm (2.0–3.9 in). The weight is typically 10–25 g (0.4–0.9 oz). They vary in colour from white to grey, and light brown to black. They have short hair and a light belly. The ears and tail have little hair. The hind feet are short compared to Apodemus mice, only 15–19 mm (0.59–0.75 in) long; the normal gait is a run with a stride of about 4.5 cm (1.8 in), though they can jump vertically up to 45 cm (18 in).[3] The droppings are blackish, about 3 mm (0.12 in) long,[citation needed] and have a strong musty smell. The voice is a high-pitched squeak.[4][5]

House mice thrive under a variety of conditions: they are found in and around homes and commercial structures as well as in open fields and agricultural lands. House mice consume and contaminate food, pet food and animal feed. In addition, they often cause considerable agricultural and property damage. They also transmit disease-causing pathogens and parasites.[6]

Reconstructed image of a House Mouse skull.

Young males and females are not easily distinguished: like people, females have a significantly smaller distance between their anus and genital opening. Females have 5 pairs of mammary glands and nipples; males have no nipples.[7] When sexually mature, the most striking and obvious difference is the presence of testicles on the males. These are large compared to the rest of the body and can be retracted into the body. In addition to the regular pea-size thymus organ in the chest, house mice have a second functional pinhead-size thymus organ in the neck next to the trachea.[8]


There are three widely accepted subspecies, increasingly treated as distinct species:[9][10]

  • Mus musculus castaneus (southern and southeastern Asia *PHOTO)
  • Mus musculus domesticus (western Europe, southwestern Asia, Americas, Africa, and Oceania)
  • Mus musculus musculus (eastern Europe and northern Asia)

Two additional subspecies have been more recently recognized:[10]

  • Mus musculus bactrianus (central Asia)
  • Mus musculus gentilulus (Arabian Peninsula; Madagascar)[11]

Many more names have been given to house mice, but are now regarded as synonyms of other subspecies. Some populations are hybrids of different subspecies, including the Japanese house mouse ("molossinus").[10][12]


Video of a Japanese house mouse eating at Ueno Zoo.

House mice usually run, walk, or stand on all fours, but when eating, fighting, or orienting themselves, they stand only on the hind legs, supported by the tail. When they run, the horizontal tail serves for balance; the end stands up vertically, unless the mouse is frightened. Mice are good jumpers, climbers, and swimmers.

Mice are mostly active during dusk or night; they do not like bright lights. They live in a wide variety of hidden places that are near food sources and construct nests from various soft materials. Mice are territorial, and one dominant male usually lives together with several females and young. Dominant males respect each other's territory and normally enter another's territory only if it is vacant. If two or more males are held together in a cage, they will often turn aggressive unless they have been raised together from birth.

House mice primarily feed on plant matter but are omnivorous. They will eat their droppings to acquire nutrients produced by bacteria in their intestines. House mice, like most other rodents, do not vomit.

Mice are afraid of rats, which often kill and (partially) eat mice. This rat behaviour is known as muricide. Despite this behaviour free-living populations of rats and mice do exist together in forest areas in New Zealand, North America and elsewhere. House mice are generally poor competitors and in most areas cannot survive away from human settlements in areas where other small mammals, such as wood mice, are present.[13] However, in some areas (such as Australia), mice are able to co-exist with other small rodent species.[14]

Senses and communication

As primarily nocturnal animals, house mice have little or no colour vision. They have a sharp sense of hearing and can perceive ultrasound, possibly up to 100 kHz. They communicate both in the human audible range with squeaks (for long-distance warnings), and in the ultrasound range (for short-distance communication).[citation needed]

House mice also rely on pheromones for social communication, some of which are produced by the preputial glands of both sexes. The tear fluid and urine of male mice also contains pheromones, such as major urinary proteins.[15][16] Mice detect pheromones mainly with the vomeronasal organ (Jacobson's organ), located at the bottom of the nose.

The urine of house mice, especially that of males, has a characteristic strong odor. At least ten different compounds such as alkanes, alcohols, etc. are detectable in the urine. Among the ten, five compounds are specific to males, namely 3-cyclohexene-1-methanol, Aminotriazole (3-amino-s-triazole), 4-ethyl phenol, 3-ethyl-2,7-dimethyl octane and 1-iodoundecane.[17]

Mice can sense surfaces and air movements with their whiskers.

Life cycle and reproduction

A 7-day-old mouse suckling on an anaesthetized mother.
A baby mouse, 4 days old.
2 weeks old, just about to open its eyes.

Female house mice have an estrous cycle that is 4–6 days long, with estrus itself lasting less than a day. If several females are held together under crowded conditions, they will often not have an estrus at all. If they are then exposed to male urine, they will become estrous after 72 hours.

Male house mice court females by emitting characteristic ultrasonic calls in the 30 kHz–110 kHz range. The calls are most frequent during courtship when the male is sniffing and following the female; however, the calls continue after mating has begun at which time the calls are coincident with mounting behaviour. Males can be induced to emit these calls by female pheromones. The vocalizations appear to be different in different individuals and have been compared to birdsongs because of their complexity.[18] While females have the capability to produce ultrasonic calls, they typically do not do so during mating behaviour.

Following copulation, female mice will normally develop a vaginal plug which prevents further copulation. This plug stays in place for some 24 hours. The gestation period is about 19–21 days, and they give birth to a litter of 3–14 young (average 6–8). One female can have some 5–10 litters per year, so the mice population can increase very quickly. Breeding occurs throughout the year (however, animals living in the wild don't reproduce in the colder months, even though they don't hibernate). The newborn are blind and without fur. Fur starts to grow some three days after birth and the eyes open one to two weeks after birth. Females reach sexual maturity at about 6 weeks and males at about 8 weeks, but both can breed as early as five weeks.


The average sleep time of a captive House mouse is said[by whom?] to be 12½ hours per day.[19]

Life expectancy

House mice usually live under a year in the wild. This is due to a high level of predation and exposure to harsh environments. In protected environments, however, they often live two to three years. The Methuselah Mouse Prize is a competition to breed or engineer extremely long-lived laboratory mice. As of 2005, the record holder was a genetically engineered mouse that lived for 1819 days (nearly five years). Another record holder that was kept in a stimulating environment but did not receive any genetic, pharmacological, or dietary treatment lived for 1551 days (over four years).

Mice and humans

House mice usually live in proximity to humans, in or around houses or fields. Originally native to Asia (probably northern India),[20] they spread to the Mediterranean Basin about 8000 BC, only spreading into the rest of Europe around 1000 BC.[21] This time lag is thought to be because the mice require agrarian human settlements above a certain size.[21] They have since been spread to all parts of the globe by humans.

Many studies have been done on mouse phylogenies to reconstruct early human movements. For example one study showed a previously unsuspected early link between Denmark and Madeira on the basis of the origin of the Madeiran mice.[22]

An individually ventilated and sealed cage for laboratory mice

House mice can transmit diseases, and can damage food and food packaging. Some of the diseases the house mouse carries can be deadly: for example, Murine typhus, Rickettsialpox, Tularemia, and the Bubonic plague.[citation needed] House mice can also cause substantial damage when feeding on grain. It is thought that house mice were the primary reason for the taming of the domestic cat. Various mousetraps have been developed to catch mice. Generally, rats are more harmful to humans than mice.[citation needed][clarification needed]

The first written reference to mice kept as pets occurs in the Erya, the oldest extant Chinese dictionary, from a mention in an 1100 B.C. version.[23] Human domestication led to numerous strains of "fancy" or hobby mice with a variety of colours and a docile temperament.[24] Domestic varieties of the house mouse called "feeder" mice are also used as food for some carnivorous pet reptiles, birds, arthropods, and fish. Mice bred for this purpose are genetically identical to other domestic mice, and they can be kept as pets themselves.[24]

Mice as an invasive species

Gough Island in the South Atlantic is used by 20 species of seabird for breeding, including almost all of the world's Tristan Albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) and Atlantic Petrel (Pterodroma incerta). Until house mice arrived on the island in the 19th century with seamen, the birds did not have any mammalian predators. The mice have since grown unusually large and have learned to attack albatross chicks, which can be nearly one metre tall but are largely immobile, by working in groups and gnawing on them until they bleed to death. The estimated 700,000 mice on the island kill a total of over one million bird chicks per year.[25]

Laboratory mice

Lab mouse mg 3263.jpg
Lab mouse mg 3308.jpg

Mice are the most commonly used animal research model with hundreds of established inbred, outbred, and transgenic strains. In the United States, they are not regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) administered by the USDA APHIS. However, the Public Health Service Act (PHS) as administered by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) does offer a standard for care and use. Compliance with PHS is required in order to receive federal funding. PHS Policy is administered by the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW). Many academic research institutes seek accreditation voluntarily, often through Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC), which maintains the standards of care found within The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and the PHS Policy. This accreditation is voluntary not a prerequisite for federal funding.[26]

Mice are common experimental animals in biology and psychology; primarily because they are mammals, are relatively easy to maintain and handle, reproduce quickly, and share a high degree of homology with humans. The mouse genome has been sequenced, and many mouse genes have human homologues.

In addition to being small, relatively inexpensive, and easily maintained, there are further benefits to the use of mice in laboratory research. Because mice can reproduce quickly, several generations of mice can be observed in a relatively short period of time.[27]

Most laboratory mice are hybrids of different subspecies, most commonly of Mus musculus domesticus and Mus musculus musculus. Laboratory mice come in a variety of coat colours including agouti, black and albino. Many (but not all) laboratory strains are inbred, so as to make them genetically almost identical. The different strains are identified with specific letter-digit combinations; for example C57BL/6 and BALB/c.

The first such inbred strains were produced by Clarence Cook Little in 1909. Little was influential in promoting the mouse as a laboratory organism.[28]

Albino lab mice


Sequencing of the mouse genome was completed in late 2002. The haploid genome is about three billion bases long (3000 Mb distributed over 20 chromosomes) and therefore equal to the size of the human genome.[29] Estimating the number of genes contained in the mouse genome is difficult, in part because the definition of a gene is still being debated and extended. The current estimated gene count is 23,786.[30] This estimate takes into account knowledge of molecular biology as well as comparative genomic data. For comparison, humans are estimated to have 23,686 genes.[31]


The t-haplotype is a selfish element that works to disable the function of the wild house mouse, Mus musculus, sperm to ensure the fertilization of the female egg with their own sperm. This gamete killer designed and structured to suppress recombination of genes, is a single unit, of linked genes, located near the centromere of chromosome 17 and is approximately 30-40 Mb long.[32] One part of the t-haplotype is the responder-insensitive allele Tcr. Tcr gives protection from the distorting drivers, since it shows haploid-specific expression, which means that only sperm that carry the haploid are rescued from being killed.[33] While advantageous, the frequency of this selfish element is reported as low.[34]

The low t – haplotype frequency in the wild house mouse population is a paradox. Although +/t male mice carry equal ratios of both gamete types (+ and t) and the wild type chromosome becomes functionally inactivated as well as 90% of the offspring inherit the t chromosomes, wild house mouse populations have remained polymorphic.[34] It would be hypothesized that the high TRD, transmission distortion ratio, of t-haplotypes would become fixed in a natural population, if 90% of the offspring were inheriting the t chromosome, but due to several factors this is not the case. There have been investigations of different subspecies mice populations in different locations. Studies have found that there were low t frequencies in enclosure populations as well as in different subspecies. Huang et al. (2001)[35], in Taiwan, observed a low frequency in the subspecies, Mus castaneus, which has also been observed by both Ardlie and Silver (1998)[34] and Carroll et al. (2004).[36] Based on these findings, it can be assumed that the general mechanisms of these low t frequencies in mouse populations are similar across subspecies and geographical location, making the unraveling of this paradox beneficial to not only the Mus domesticus species of mouse, but for other species of mouse such as Mus castaneus.

Explanations for the low frequency of t-haplotypes include factors such as population size, inbreeding, heterozygosity, and polyandry in the wild house mouse population.

Mutant and transgenic strains

A knockout mouse (left) that is a model of obesity, compared with a normal mouse.

Various mutant strains of mice have been created by a number of methods:

Since 1998, it has been possible to clone mice from cells derived from adult animals.

Injection procedures

Routes of administration of injections in laboratory mice are mainly subcutaneous, intraperitoneal and intravenous. Intramuscular administration is not recommended due to small muscle mass.[38] Intracerebral administration is also possible. Each procedure has recommended injection site, approximate needle gauge and recommended maximal injected volume at a single time at one site, as given in table:

Route Recommended site[38] Needle gauge[38] Maximal volume[39]
subcutaneous dorsum, between scapula 25-26 ga 2-3 ml
intraperitoneal left lower quadrant 25-27 ga 2-3 ml
intravenous lateral tail vein 27-28 ga 0.2 ml
intramuscular hindlimb, caudal thigh 26-27 ga 0.05 ml
intracerebral cranium 27 ga

To facilitate intravenous injection into the tail, laboratory mice can be carefully warmed under heat lamps to vasodilate the vessels.[38]


A common regimen for general anesthesia for the house mouse is ketamine (in the dose of 100 mg per kilogram body weight) plus xylazine (in the dose of 5–10 mg/kg), injected by the intraperitoneal route.[40] It has a duration of effect of about 30 minutes.[40]


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Further reading