The Pacific Pocket Mouse Of California: An Endangered Species

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The endangered Pacific Pocket Mouse, facts and lifestyle.

Pacific Pocket Mouse.

Who would have thought that a mouse would be on the Endangered Species List? Whales, big cats, and bears often reach the public eye through donation campaigns. Environmentalist groups struggle for donations to help stem the tide of growing numbers of species being added to the list. But, mice are normally just considered pests. Home rodent control companies make thousands of dollars annually simply keeping homes free of mice. House mice infest foodstuffs, carry disease, and multiply like weeds when they have a comfortable house to live in. But, unlike common house mice, there are a growing number of very rare mice that have been added to the Endangered Species List. In fact, Pacific Pocket Mice are actually one of the most endangered species in the entire North American continent, and fascinating because they are also one of the smallest rodent species in the world.

The tiny, four to six-inch-long mice are light brown in color, distinguished by lighter color patches at the base of their ears. They each weigh about ¼ ounce. They live in the ground, and burrow deeper into the soil to escape extremes of heat or cold. These tiny mice mostly eat seeds, some insects, grass, and leaves, though they are so small that they cannot maintain their energy unless they eat constantly while they are active. They store their extra food in fur-lined external cheek pouches.

When a baby Pocket Mouse is born, it will generally be about one inch long, and will weigh about an ounce. The mother, who can be fertile for 40 days, will usually give birth to one litter a year, with an average of three to seven babies per litter. Births normally take place from April through July. The mice live about 3 to 5 years, depending upon the balance of available food and predator activity.

It has been estimated that there are only about 300 Pocket Mice living, with the majority of these found in California. Their habitat is endangered due to pollution and the gradual decline of safety in their normal environment. They are prey for red foxes and feral cats, but also suffer due to the increase of other wild animals that increasingly share their territory.

Scientists know the miniscule Pacific Pocket Mouse by the large scientific name Perognathus longimembris pacificus. It has been on the Endangered Species List since February 3, 1994. It is one of the smallest members of the Family: Heteromyidae, in the Group: Mammals. At one time, it was actually thought to be extinct. Now it is known to be extremely rare, and struggling to survive as increased urban development decreases its habitat.

Currently, the Marine Corp Base Camp Pendleton and the City of Dana Point, California have opted to relocate Pacific Pocket Mouse colonies to safe areas developed for them. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working in conjunction with these two agencies to relocate the Camp Pendleton mice to 70 acres in the Dana Point Headlands reserved for the Pocket Mice since 1988.

Who would have thought that a little species of mice would be the focus of such intense efforts as part of the Federal Endangered Species List? Scorned for centuries as carriers of plague, increased understanding of the place and purpose for each animal on earth has brought the smallest of mice species into a new, intriguing and certainly important place.

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