Online Encyclopedia

MOUSE

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V18, Page 944 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MOUSE, in its original sense probably the name of the semi-domesticated house-mouse (Mus musculus), the type of the genus Mus and of the family Muridae. Zoologically, there is no distinction between mice and rats; these names being employed respectively for most or all of the smaller and larger " mouse-like " and " rat-like " representatives of the Muridae, whether they belong to the genus Mus or not. It is true indeed that in zoological nomenclature some of these are distinguished as " voles " (see VOLE), but this is not in accord with popular usage, where such creatures come under the designation either of water-rats or field-mice. The distinctive characters of the typical mice (and rats), i.e. those included in the genus Mus, are dealt with in the article RODENTIA. With the exception of Madagascar, the genus Mus ranges over practically the whole of the Old World, having indigenous representatives even in Australasia; while the house-mouse, with man's involuntary aid, has succeeded in establishing itself throughout the civilized world. The following is a brief notice of the species of true mice (that is to say, those generally included in the genus Mus) inhabiting the British Isles. These are three in number. M. musculus, the house-mouse, originally a native of Central Asia, has spread to all the inhabited parts of the globe. M. sylvaticus, the wood or long-tailed field-mouse, is a species common in many parts of England, often taking to barns and out-houses for shelter during the winter. It is of about the same size and pro-portions as M. musculus, but of a bright reddish-grey colour, with a pure white belly. M. minutes, the harvest-mouse, is the smallest of the European mice, seldom exceeding 22 or 3 in. in length; and of a yellowish-red colour, with comparatively short ears and tail. It lives entirely away from houses, commonly taking up its abode in wheat or hay fields, where it builds a round grass nest about the size of a cricket-ball, in which it brings up its young. Its range extends from England to Japan. In regard to the first it is noteworthy that house-mice isolated on a small sandbank near Dublin have developed a special colouring of their own; also that distinct local varieties, M. musculus muralis and M. m. faeroensis, inhabit respectively St Kilda and the Faeroes. In Central Asia there exists a wild mouse (M. bactrianus), and likewise a second species (M. wagneri), with the habits of a house-mouse, both of which are closely allied to M. musculus; while there is a third kind (M. gentilis), also nearly related, in the deserts of North Africa. According to Major G. E. H. Barrett-Hamilton it is probable that M. bactrianus and M. musculus are respectively desert and house modifications descended from some Central Asian ancestor more or less nearly allied to M. wagneri. As regards the other two British species, it must suffice to say that there are several local races of each; Mus sylvaticus being represented by several in the British Isles, although there is but one British representative of M. minutus. It may be added that by some naturalists both M. sylvaticus and M. minutus are separated from Mus as Micromys. See G. E. H. Barrett–Hamilton, " Note on the Harvest-Mice of the Palaearctic Region," Annals and Magazine of Nat. History (April 1899) ; " On the Species of the genus Mus inhabiting St Kilda," Proc. Zool. Soc. (London, 1899) ; " On Geographical and Individual Variation in Ivius sylvaticus and its Allies," op. cit. (1900) ; W. E. Clarke, " On Forms of Mus musculus, with Description of a New Subspecies from the Faeroe Islands," Proc. Roy. Phys. Soc. (Edinburgh, 1904), vol. xv. (R. L.*) MOUSE-BIRD (Du. Muisvogel), the name by which in Cape Colony and Natal the members of the genus Colius of M. J. Brisson are known—probably from their singular habit of creeping along the boughs of trees with the whole tarsus applied to the branch. By the earlier systematists, Colius was placed among the Fringillidae; but the investigations of J. Murie and A. H. Garrod on its internal structure showed that it was not a true Passerine, and it is now placed in a separate family, Coliidae, amongst Coraciiform birds, near the trogons and swifts (q.v.). The Coliidae are small birds, with a rather Mouse-Bird. finch-like bill, a more or less crested head, a very long tail, and generally of a dun or slate-coloured plumage that sometimes brightens into blue or is pleasingly diversified with white or chestnut. They feed almost wholly on fruits, but occasionally take insects, in quest of which they pass in bands of fifteen or twenty from tree to tree. Seven species are believed to exist, all belonging to the Ethiopian region (of which the Family is one of the most characteristic), and ranging from Abyssinia southwards. Three species inhabit Cape Colony. (A. N.)
End of Article: MOUSE
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