Characteristics of Pacific Pocket Mouse
The Pacific pocket mouse is one of the smallest and lightest rodent species. A mere 4.25 inches to 5.2 inches in length, and 0.25 oz to 0.33 oz in weight, its body is entirely covered by silky fur. The dorsal side of the mouse is pinkish and brown, while the ventral side is usually white. The mouse’s dorsal color is an adaptation for protection from predators. To avoid being seen by predators such as feral cats, it mimics the color of soil. Let’s find out the answer to the question, “is the pocket mouse an endangered species?”
Habitat and Diet
Pacific pocket mice are found in California in the United States, and Baja California in Mexico. They live in sandy coastal soils, where adequate vegetation is found, and create underground burrows as shelter. To preserve body heat and food, they hibernate during the winter season.
Seeds are the main food of the Pacific pocket mouse, but it can also feed on small insects and vegetation. The mouse gathers its food during the night. It has a large mouth pouch where it can temporarily store food for later use. It conserves water, amazingly, by concentrating its urine and reducing evaporation. Interestingly, the Pacific pocket mouse has a very high metabolic rate, so it needs a constant supply of food while active.
The breeding season of Pacific mice is April to July, but can vary depending on temperature, availability of food and water, and the quantity of habitat vegetation. The gestation period is about 22 to 23 days. Unlike other species of the rodent family, Pacific pocket mice do not reproduce offspring in large quantities or at a fast rate. Typical females produce one litter annually, sizing from about two to eight pups. Some females, however, produce two litters per year depending on environmental conditions.
Newborn Pacific pocket mice are less than one inch in length and one gram in weight. As mammals, young pocket mice subsist on their mother’s milk for about 30 days. By two to five months after birth, the mice are sexually mature.
Causes of Endangerment and Ecological Implications
The Pacific pocket mouse, an endangered species in California, is threatened because of continuous degradation, destruction, modification, and fragmentation of their habitat. Their natural home is converted by man into agricultural, residential, and recreational places. The construction of airports, roads, and railroads destroy their habitat forever. Another reason why the pocket mice are endangered in California is the introduction of predators, such as cats, in their natural environment. Unscrupulous people trap them for pets, even though they don’t know how to care properly for the mice in captivity. Pollution also put pressures on the dwindling population of pocket mice in California.
Pocket mice are ecologically important animals. They help in the dispersal of seeds. They control the number of some insect species by feeding on them. Their feces make the soil fertile. They also help in the aeration of soil by creating extensive underground burrows. The Pacific pocket mouse is small indeed, but its disappearance will have a big ecological consequence.
The Pacific pocket mouse was believed to be extinct for almost twenty years until it was rediscovered in 1993. It was immediately listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the emergency list of endangered species. Through the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the Pacific pocket mouse received full protection in 1994. It is estimated that there are only 300 existing pocket mice, and most of them are found in the state of California and Baja California.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the government agency responsible for protecting the Pacific pocket mouse. The agency prevents urban development in areas where the pocket mouse is found. It is continuously searching for new populations of pocket mice in various areas in California and other states. It has also initiated a breeding program to increase the number of captive pocket mice. Captive-bred pocket mice are then released by the agency in protected habitats. The ultimate goal of the agency is removing the pocket mouse from the endangered species list by 2023. Other nongovernmental and environmental organizations also help protect the Pacific pocket mouse.
For information on other endangered species, please read, “Saving Endangered Species with the Frozen Ark Project.”