Did you know that Ireland is home to several rodent species including the little wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)? Due to its long tail it is often referred to as the ‘long tail field mouse’ and this is where its Irish name ‘Luch Féir’ comes from. They are on average 8-10cm in length and weigh a tiny 25 grams…that is about 5 sugar cubes!
The wood mouse is often mistaken for the common house mouse, although the wood mouse has some distinguishing features including its large eyes, ears, and a much longer tail.
Its back and sides are covered with brown fur and they have a greyish white underbelly. The wood mouse is a burrowing rodent and can live in a complex network of underground tunnels. They use these as nesting chambers and even to store food they find in Summer and Autumn to supplement their diet in Winter. The current population size is unknown but thought to be 9-10 million.
Where to find the wood mouse
The wood mouse is widespread throughout Europe. It is one of Ireland’s most common rodents. You will find them in coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests. They adapt easily and can also be found in hedgerows, sand dunes, brambles, blanket bog, and even open grassland. Spotting one may prove difficult as they are nocturnal creatures. Although they are sometimes seen during the day in dense bracken or woodland areas (Blackman, 2020).
Wood mice are omnivores and so their diet is quite varied. It can include berries, fruits, fungi, nuts, cereal, and bulbs. They also eat earthworms, snails, and insect larvae.
The Circle of Life
We love the little wood mouse, and they can benefit us by preying on harmful insects, and many plants germinate from forgotten food stores of the wood mouse. But they are a valuable food source for some of Ireland’s native predators such as badgers, stoats, foxes, kestrels, and owls.
- They rarely live longer than 12 months.
- Wood mice will leave twigs and leaves in specific locations around their territory. No other animal apart from humans set out to mark their way like this.
- The sperm of the male wood mouse cooperate to link together in up to thousands allowing them to swim faster than single sperm.
- Wood mice do not hibernate, but if there is a particularly bad winter, they can enter a state of dormancy. If food is plentiful in the winter they will continue to breed.
- Wood mice groom each other, the males use this time to get closer to the females to observe their reproductive state.
- As a defence mechanism the skin on the tail of a wood mouse can be shed to escape from predators.
- Females can reproduce up to six times per year and have litters of four to eight young each time.
Written by Mary Moroney