The house mouse (Mus musculus) probably has a world distribution more extensive than any mammal apart from humans. Its geographic spread has been facilitated by its commensal relationship with humans which extends back at least 8,000 years. They do considerable damage by destroying crops and consuming and/or contaminating food supplies intended for human consumption. They are prolific breeders, sometimes errupting and reaching plague proportions. They have also been implicated in the extinction of indigenous species in ecosytems they have invaded and colonised which are outside their natural range. An important factor in the success of the house mouse is their behavioural plasticity brought about by the decoupling of genetics and behaviour. This enables the house mouse to adapt quickly and to survive and prosper in new environments.
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Waltzing, shaking, and singing mice are other names for certain types of house mice. Some are known as singing mice because of the twitterings they emit while in the nest. Some forms, known as shaking or waltzing mice, move erratically, which is how they get their name.
Mus musculus was originally a Palaearctic species, but through its close association with humans it has been widely introduced across the globe (Musser and Carleton, 2005). The species is widespread over all continents, except Antarctica, and has become established in North and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, and many oceanic islands (Macholán 1999). The list of countries of occurrence is incomplete.
The house mouse is one of the most widely distributed and successful mammals in the world (2). It has dull greyish-brown fur and the tail, which is the same length as the body, is thicker and scalier than that of other species of mice (3). It is accompanied by a distinctive strong 'stale' odour and its presence can easily be detected by means of its droppings (2). Forms of this species living in association with man ('commensal' forms) tend to be larger and darker than 'wild' forms, and have longer tails (3). The voice is a familiar high-pitched 'squeak' (3).
Maximum longevity: 4 years (captivity) Observations: A major model of biomedical research, mice are amongst the fastest ageing mammals exhibiting a variety of physiological, functional and pathological changes with age. The record longevity for normal mice is 4 years, belonging to one wild-derived specimen (Miller et al. 2002). Mutant and caloric restricted mice, however, can live over 4 years (Bartke and Brown-Borg 2004), though these are not deemed suitable for species comparisons. Record longevity belongs to a mutant dwarf mouse that lived 1819 days (Andrzej Bartke, pers. comm.). Smaller mice tend to live longer (Miller et al. 2002).
House mice are eaten by a wide variety of small predators throughout the world, including Felis silvestris, Vulpes vulpes, Mustela, Mustela, Herpestidae, large Squamata, Squamata, Accipitridae, Falconidae, and Strigiformes. House mice try to avoid predation by keeping out of the open and by being fast. They are also capable of reproducing very rapidly, which means that populations can recover quickly from predation.
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. 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 their 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 furless. 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. House mice usually live under a year in the wild, because of 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 5 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 4 years.