Ruminations on Rodents

Ruminations on Rodents
watercolour painting of a mouse eating cheese
“Mouse eating cheese”, Caroline Peebles via State Library Victoria

My side of the planet is leaning away from the sun as if it is too hot to bear at present, and according to the news, it really is in the northern hemisphere. Extremes have led to heat waves, death and wildfires, and the situation has become so severe that the United Nations felt compelled to release heat wave warning guidelines in an attempt to address the health risks.

Generally, meteorologists divide the seasons nicely and neatly by calendar dates; the first of March (Spring in the Northern Hemisphere and Autumn in the Southern), June (Summer/Winter), September (Autumn/Spring) and December (Winter/Summer). But in fact, the seasons actually commence on the relevant solstice/equinox when the sun is at a given distance from the earth/angle of elevation, generally indicated by the length of the day. And the reason why the weather intensifies after the solstice/equinox is the planet’s thermal mass – it builds up heat over summer and it takes a bit of time for it to dissipate. Or warm back up.

This year Melbourne hit the winter solstice at 02:38 June 22 (local time), but won’t hit the spring equinox until 18:20 September 23. That means that winter really only commenced on June 22, and as this side of the planet is still shedding thermal mass we can expect it to get colder, not reaching full on “winter” until around August. (Or if you are in the north HOTTER).

And now you are probably wondering what this has to do with rodents – it’s the time of year when they start moving into the house.

Our house is around 105 years old. We know from crawling about underneath it, that its original construction was two rooms. Our visits to assorted historic houses indicate that these would have been one room for sleeping, and one room for everything else (which is supported by my wardrobe building/planning research). There is local historic evidence suggesting there may have been an outdoor kitchen, but given how cold it gets here (my cemetery tour taught me that the last local snowfall was in the 1970s), it seems more likely that there would have been a fire in the house.

The house has the typical haphazard growth pattern of bunging extra rooms on when needed. I confess I would dearly like to reorganise the layout and reinstate the old old floorboards throughout, but that’s not going to increase the property value sufficiently to warrant the cost. Anyway, old house, haphazard construction, lots of ways for rodents to get in and get warm.

This is of course partly our fault for putting out bird seed, but after living here for a decade, we know they live in the garden year round and that when the weather heats up again they will move out. Which leaves the question of what to do about them in the meantime.

I know I have mentioned before that we live near a National Park, and have seen both kangaroos and echidnas in my street, so it seems reasonable to assume that at least some of our rodents are native, even if native rodents don’t usually seek out the comforts of urban living. Despite their different origins native and house rodents are closely related and can be quite difficult to tell apart. And as some species of native rodents are endangered, it feels like my moral responsibility not to make the situation worse.

So I don’t want to lay baits, and in any case, we have inquisitive dogs. They might not take the bait, but they might take the poisoned rodent. As might the kookaburras, magpies and currawongs. I’m sure I’ve seen Tawny Frogmouths here as well.

Other people would lay traps, and we do fall into that category because rodents can carry diseases I don’t need and chew stuff like walls, floors and electrical wiring. While we have used the traditional spring-loaded for many years, they aren’t actually very efficient and sometimes the results are more than I want to deal with before I have my coffee.  And I can’t have my coffee before I deal with them.

Please note that while wild rodents can carry disease (and other pests like fleas and mites), they are NOT diseased because they are rodents – they pick up diseases from the places they live, the creatures they fight and the things that they eat. And as there aren’t rodent hospitals…

The RSPCA recommends traps that capture rodents live, so long as they are checked daily and their basic needs met if not released promptly. As well as this, they should not be released outside their local territory as they will probably be killed by those that “own” the territory you release them into (not very humane). Sadly for me, they don’t sell one in their shop – wonder why? ;). PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) recommend the Humane Mouse which looks pretty cool. I might not be able to get that exact one locally, but I am sure I can get something that will do the job.

What is your opinion on rats and mice in the house? What would you do?

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