Mice, belonging to the order Rodentia which contains all rodents, are toward the bottom of the food chain for many reasons. Among them there is the fact that all mice are fairly small, with the smallest being species weighing in at around 10 grams and the largest, the house mice (specifically Gough Island house mice), weighing as much as 20 to 35 grams. This means that they have a plethora of natural predators, all helping to keep mice from becoming overpopulated, spreading disease, or causing habitat destruction.
In the famous study conducted by John Calhoun in the 1970s, mice that are allowed to live without predators will quickly grow in numbers, and before long will destroy the environment that they are in, depleting it of food, and ultimately killing themselves and potentially other organisms relying on that environment.
However, as it is the case with any animal that is permitted to exist without predators – predators, and more broadly speaking environmental competition are essential for proper ecosystem functioning. Similarly, mice aid in the dispersal of seeds from plants and help keep insect populations in check, therefore entirely removing mice can actually damage ecosystems. In this article, we will cover some of the primary predators that help keep the mice population in check.
What animals eat mice?
To answer the age-old question – yes, cats do indeed eat mice. Whether a domesticated house cat or a fearsome wild leopard, most feline species are known to prey on mice.
Small cat species, such as bobcats and lynx, rely more heavily on mice and other small rodents to feed themselves and their young. While for larger species like leopards mice comprise a smaller portion of their diet and mostly serve as supplements when they are having trouble finding more sizable prey.
In fact, the game of cat and mouse has been in play for so long that even the site of a cat causes a huge spike in rodent stress levels, more so than when exposed to stimuli from other predators. In short, mice have developed a sort of PTSD towards cats that has carried through their evolution, passing onto each generation of offspring. Therefore most mice have an instinctual, visceral fear of felines. Similarly, your house cat may love to catch mice because of this same instinctual reaction that has developed over millions of years.
Canines are also known to prey on mice, though the relationship isn’t as familiar to us as that between cats and mice.
Like with felines, smaller canine species such as foxes, jackals, and dingoes tend to rely more heavily on mice for their diet, all of which are known to readily hunt and consume mice throughout the year.
Foxes are known to hear mice scuffling beneath thick layers of ice and snow from dozens of feet away, stalking slowly towards them, and then dive quickly through several feet of snow to catch the mouse that thought itself safe within its winter tunnels.
Wolves will also eat mice every now and then, particularly when food is scarce. And they often use these small creatures to teach their rowdy, inexperienced pups how to hunt. While even though most domesticated dogs are a far cry from their wolf ancestors this instinct is still often present in many of them. Which is why don’t be surprised to discover your dog bringing you a gift of a dead mouse at some point or another, just as wild canine species will bring gifts of prey to their alpha leaders. Or your dog may simply gobble the mouse up for itself, or chase it around the house or yard as a form of play.
Birds are a primary predator of mice, perhaps more so than cats. Specifically, predatory birds such as owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, kites, kestrels truly depend on mice and other small prey animals in order to survive. Out of all of these, owls are the birds that predate most predominantly on mice – this is because both mice and owls are nocturnal (though mice are known to sometimes be active during the day as well).
Mice scurry about outside of their hiding places in the presumed safety of darkness for food, nesting material, and mates. While owls with their exceptionally keen eyesight are on the lookout for these little guys and swoop in silently to eat them. In the Midwest region of the U.S., great horned owls, screech owls, long-eared owls, and red-tailed hawks are the prime avian predators of mice.
Other common mouse predators, depending on which region you live, include reptiles, amphibians, and other small-medium sized mammals. Snakes will readily consume mice if the rodents happen to be slow enough or unaware enough. And some frog and lizard species may eat baby mice.
In addition, mustelids such as weasels, minks, and martens rely heavily on small rodents like mice for their diet. And occasionally rats and even other mice will eat their own kind if food is scarce or they are viewed as a threat.
Popular myths about mice predators
One of the most common myths about mice predators is that simply having some of these predators around your house will eliminate any mouse issues that you might have within your home.
While the animals listed above will help greatly in reducing mouse populations, unfortunately, once mice have established themselves in your home, you’ll likely need more than just some natural predators to get rid of them and keep them from coming back. They’ll be able to easily hide in your home and hide food in places where predators, even your cat if you have one, won’t be able to get to them.
Another widely known myth is that feral cats are good because they help keep rodents in check.
In addition to the point made in the preceding paragraph, feral cats are actually more of a detriment than a benefit, as they themselves breed out of control, roam about freely, and are responsible for the extinction of dozens of bird species in the last couple of decades. You’re better off keeping your cat indoors (where it will still be able to kill any mice that happen to venture indoors) and getting it spayed or neutered to prevent it from breeding and producing an insane amount of kittens over the years (thereby protecting sensitive bird species). As well as enlisting the help of methods such as mouse traps and fixing any foundation issues in your house that may be allowing mice to enter your home.
Finally, some mouse predators are viewed negatively by humans, simply due to what they are. Snakes, for example, are vilified by about half of Americans, though they aid in reducing the spread of disease and parasites by killing abundant animals like mice.
These diseases and parasites don’t generally infect snakes, as they’re adapted to exist primarily in mammals, so snakes can stop these potential illnesses in their tracks before they make contact with us or our pets via mice and other rodents.