Wood Mouse

Wood Mouse

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) – A small rodent with sandy brown fur (darker towards the spine) with a white/grey underside, protruding eyes, large ears, long tail. Juveniles are greyer overall, still with larger ears, hind feet and tails than house mice.

Urban & gardens, Upland & moorland, Deciduous woodland, Grassland, Mixed woodland, Heathland, Arable land

81-103mm; tail 71-95mm


Origin and Distribution
Found throughout the British Isles, even on the smaller islands, the wood mouse is our most common and widespread wild rodent. It is an inhabitant mainly of woodland and fields but is highly adaptable and is found in most habitats if not too wet. It is rarely recorded on higher exposed ground with little cover. Wood mice are essentially nocturnal but some individuals may venture out in daylight.

General Ecology
Most wood mice live in underground burrows. The burrows are fairly complicated and may include nest chambers and food stores. Burrows probably survive from one generation to the next and will be enlarged or modified as required. Nests are commonly made of leaves, moss and grass. They are usually built below ground under the roots of shrubs or trees but occasionally are found in holes in trees, buildings and bird or dormouse nest boxes. Additional nesting material is used in autumn and winter; often the mouse blocks the entrance to the burrow with leaves, twigs or stones.

Individuals will nest communally in the winter but in the spring females usually take up their own home ranges and nest singly. However, home ranges shared by two females have been observed. Breeding males range over larger areas occupied by a number of females.

Their predators include foxes, weasels, owls and domestic cats. Wood mice are important prey for tawny owls; when numbers of woodland rodents are low, owls may fail to breed.

Seeds, green plants, fruits and animal foods. In a mixed deciduous woodland: acorns, ash and sycamore seeds for most of the winter, buds in early spring, caterpillars, worms and centipedes in early summer and blackberries and fungi in the autumn. Food is cached in underground burrows. Food remains are found in disused bird nests, on tree stumps and in sheltered feeding places between the roots of trees or under ledges. They tend to leave the flesh of fruit and eat only the pips.

Few adults survive from one summer to the next.

Litters of 4-7 young are born in successive pregnancies from March to October but autumn litters are small. The babies are born blind (eyes closed) and hairless. They are weaned at 18-22 days of age when their weight is about 6-8 grams. Growth in the summer is rapid and females can become pregnant when they have reached a weight of 12 grams. Breeding may continue over the winter if a good food supply, such as a heavy acorn crop, is available.

Conservation Status
Wood mice have no legal protection and conservation does not seem necessary as recolonisation after mortality is often rapid. Wood mice can be beneficial to man by preying on harmful insects, and many trees and shrubs germinate from forgotten wood mouse food stores.

Studies of woodland seed crops and population numbers organised by the Mammal Society show that the seed crop size strongly influences wood mouse numbers in the same autumn and in the following summer (more food leads to higher numbers and better survival). Numbers are probably synchronised: highs and lows tend to coincide in different parts of Britain, possible because tree seed crops are synchronised.

Credit: With thanks to The Mammal Society for providing the photo and information. © The Mammal Society