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Bill Starr: Mice not so cute

Three blind mice; see how they run. This is a funny nursery rhyme, but if you have ever done battle with mice in your home then you know that’s not funny at all! Mice in your home can be more than a nuisance. It’s getting that time of year when outside temperatures are starting to cool off and mice might be looking for a nice, warm place to stay as we approach cooler nights.
Mice and rats can spoil food, carry diseases and they are dirty. They soil your house with their droppings. If you see a mouse or a rat you can almost always be sure there are many more. They usually hide by day and come out at night. Mice are about 3 inches long, not counting the tail. Rats are much larger, up to a foot long, not counting the tail. Most rats and mice live in the woods and fields, but three kinds live with people. Rats and mice are curious. They eat a variety of foods, including grain and seed, nuts, meat, and candy. Mice prefer seeds and grain, but they are not hesitant to sample new foods and are considered “nibblers”, sampling many kinds of items that may exist in their environment.
How do you know you have rats or mice? Look for — droppings: mouse droppings are about the size of rice grains. Tracks: scatter a small patch of flour or talcum powder on the floor along the wall. Put a piece of bread spread with peanut butter or a piece of cracker in the middle of you tracking patch. Check for tracks the next day. Gnawings: check your pantry for chewed packages. Look for shredded paper, and tooth marks. Simply listening for gnawing or scratching in the walls or attic, especially at night can be an indication you may have mice.
So, what should you do if you think you may have extra visitors in your home? The first thing you should do is to try to find where they may have entered you home. Close their holes and entryways. Keep doors closed, cover windows with screens. Keep floor drains tightly sealed. Cement or caulk around pipes and cables where they pass through walls. Mice can get though any hole that you can get the tip of your finger in. Seal with stainless steel scouring pads, then caulk over them.
Inside your home use traps instead of poison baits. Poison baits are more dangerous. Also, poisoned rats and mice will die and stink in your walls or attics. Use plenty of traps in a room. Put them along the wall, in cupboards, drawers, or other places where mice might run. Make it so a mouse will not have to travel more than five to 10 feet to find a trap. Mice typically do not travel far for food. Do not expect mice to cross the room to find your trap. Mice like to run along a wall. Set traps with the bait end at a right angle to the wall. Don’t set the trap long ways against the wall because this could force the mouse to go around your trap. Snap traps are the least expensive, so use plenty of them. Sticky traps are also a good choice.
What bait is good? Mice like peanut butter, bacon or anything tasty with a strong odor. After you have caught several mice, leave the traps out for a couple of weeks just to make sure you have caught them all. Use poison outside the house only if you can keep it away from children and pets. Many good poisons are on the market. Use poisons containing warfarin, pival, fumarin, and a few others that are available. As with any pesticide be sure to follow all label directions and precautions.
Mice and rats are funny in nursery rhymes, but they are not very funny if you have them as visitors in your house. If you need any further assistance with control measures, call your local county agent. Hopefully with a little bit of planning your home will be like the famous Christmas poem “T’was the night before Christmas and all though the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a MOUSE!”

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator and ANR agent, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.