Pick a Pocket, Mouse

We like how the Pacific pocket mouse thinks: if the winter just keeps blowing cold and rainy, the small 4 1/2-inch sized mouse will often return underground to hibernate until the weather takes a turn for the better. Why bother when you can sleep?

Once thought to be extinct for 20 years, the hand-sized rodent was rediscovered in 1993 and efforts were made to protect the critter which lost most of its habitat due to urban development, roads and agriculture.

Recently, a mother pocket mouse gave birth to a family of four pink hairless pups at San Diego Zoo Global as part of the captive breeding program, now in its second season.  The program hopes one day to restore the many mice families back into the wild. In 2012, fewer than 30 adults mice were taken from the wild to form the breeding colony here. More details in this video.

The mother of this litter was born in the program last year and seems to be up for the challenge of caring for her itty bitty clan.

Historically, the range of the mouse was along the coast from LA. County to Mexico but for years, scientists assumed the little rodent was wiped out. But small populations were discovered locally in Dana Point and in Camp Pendleton. Today, the Marines are tending to the pocket mouse survival, an odd juxtaposition since the mice settled down near an amphibious assault training center.

An aside: the base is also home to 16 threatened and endangered species including the California least terns, least Bell’s vireos and Southwestern willow flycatcher.

Back in San Diego, the new pocket mouse mama is adding to the number of youngsters born and raised at the park. Last year 16 pups were born between May and August 2013. (Gestation period is a mere 23 days and pups are ready for mating in, gulp, only 14 days.)

Do the math and realize that this second season of breeding could be a bounty for the program since pups born now could be giving birth at the end of the season.

Note: don’t expect to see the mice at zoo – they are off-exhibit area where caretakers make sure temperatures and environmental conditions are just right for these nocturnal mammals.  So no extra naps for these critters in the spring. Time to make more babies!