I'm Marty Stouffer. Of all Nature's creatures, mice have the worst public relations problem. Storekeepers and farmers despise them. Normally calm women scream in fright at their appearance. Along with rats and cockroaches, mice are called "vermin." Biologically, they're rodents, but neither name vermin or rodent arouses our love and devotion. There's one mouse that's very different though. The Grasshopper Mouse lives on our Western Plains and deserts from Canada to Mexico.
HOWLING GRASSHOPPER MOUSE
This species breaks all the rules about rodents. It hunts and howls, like a tiny wolf. Hardly bigger than a house mouse, from dusk to dawn this predator stalks and kills insects, poisonous snakes, scorpions-even other mice.
Our society rates animals by their worth to mankind. Most mice rate absolute zero. But, I like Grasshopper mice. They're valuable and they're cute. They keep me entertained as they scurry around my desert campfire at night, and they remind us that even the most maligned of Nature's creatures has a place on this planet. So, come along and explore the intriguing nocturnal lives of these "KILLER MICE".
TRANSITION TO DESERT/TIME-LAPSE
Grasshopper mice are found only in North America. There are two very similar species, the Northern and the Southern. This is the desert of Arizona, home for these southern Grasshopper mice.
Most small rodents, being vegetarian, can find enough to eat in an area of only a few dozen square feet. Grasshopper mice, on the other hand, hunt and defend territories of five acres or more. All mice are prolific, and near the bottom of the food chain, which means that in a sense they exist for the dietary delight of others.
The grasshopper mouse is no exception. It must contend with Snakes, Badgers, Foxes, Coyotes, and the Burrowing owl.
OWL HUNTING GRASSHOPPER MOUSE
But Grasshopper mice have forged their own link in the food chain. This painted grasshopper, along with crickets, locusts, and other grasshoppers, is a favorite form of prey. A single mouse may consume its own weight in them daily.
Though these mice hunt mostly by smell, their hearing is equally keen, and can detect the sound of an insect walking, or hopping yards away.
With such voracious appetites, it's no wonder they get into serious squabbles over food. And with stomachs as tough as their tempers, they are able to digest the exo-skeletons of almost any insect.
Grasshopper mice are known to use the burrows of other creatures, but they prefer to dig their own, especially the nest burrow, where a litter of 2 to 6 will be raised several times a year.
In this land of hot sun and cold nights, an underground burrow is a must to shield the naked young from dehydration and hypothermia. The home base is vigorously protected.
CLOSE-UP OF HOWLING MOUSE/FIGHT
The hunting howl of another grasshopper mouse means trouble, but this male is more than ready for it. Perhaps he senses the female's nervousness about her newborns, or else he would certainly chase the intruder.
Grasshopper mice are not only carnivores, but cannibals. This stranger is lucky to escape with its life.
Within 8 days, the babies have grown fur, and it is time for their mother to teach them the eternal importance of good grooming.
MOTHER GROOMING BABIES
They're no longer "three blind mice," but they will depend on their Mother's milk for about another 2 weeks, while they learn to eat solid food.
Though each day they grow stronger and more curious, so far their hunting howl is hardly impressive.
The male takes an active role in caring for the young. This is unusual for most mammals, and almost unheard of among rodents.
MICE PAIR HUNT TOGETHER
Now that the babies are old enough to be left behind in the nest, the parents can spend more time hunting together.
The toxin secreted by a tarantula's fangs is no more fatal than a bee sting. But the short bristles on its abdomen are extremely irritating. As a defense mechanism it combs off some of these hairs and literally throws them at the enemy. The tarantula is left to go about its business-an encounter that could well be deadly.
TARANTULA AND SCORPION FIGHT
The almost silent scuffle between these two arachnids draws the attention of the mice.
A tarantula might not be worth the trouble, but a scorpion is another matter.
The sting of a scorpion can be fatal-even to humans-so how do these mice stand a chance? At first it looks like an easy victory for the Scorpion. But "Scorpion mouse" is another name for Grasshopper mouse, and this pair is not about to shirk their reputation.
MICE ATTACKING SCORPION
The first instinct is to go for the head. Another method is to attack the tail and bite off the stinger. Sometimes teamwork seems to help. And sometimes it seems that the scorpion is more than a match for both of them.
CLOSE-UP OF FIGHT
As the battle thickens, it almost becomes a matter of sheer force.
The scorpion is tiring, but it still has its stinger. One final, furious struggle, and then, the howl of victory is followed by a well earned feast.
TRANSITION TO BURROW
Meanwhile, the babies await the return of their parents.
Grasshopper mice have two or more litters a year. Sometimes not only the father, but older brothers and sisters as well, may take part in the raising of a new litter.
Here there's only one litter in the nest. This little family couldn't seem more affectionate and content with each other. It's hard to believe that these are the same fierce killers of scorpions and other mice.
Grasshopper mice do eat seeds and grains, especially in cold climates where insects are scarce in winter. But their diet is usually about 90 percent animal matter, small rodents and reptiles as well as insects.
Meanwhile, the outside world is waiting, alive with new experiences and new dangers.
The adult mice are cautious. Sensing danger, they wait until it has passed before venturing out of the burrow.
Now the young are left vulnerable to their own curiosity.
BURROWING OWL ATTACKS BURROW
The close call makes them nervous. But at least it keeps them inside for the time being. It also seems to tire them out and soon they settle down for a nap.
When the young mice do leave the nest, they will have to learn not only what is good to eat, but which end to eat it from. This little Stinkbug, or Pinocate beetle, emits a foul smelling spray from its hind end.
Even the adults have trouble catching it headfirst so that it can be eaten.
FOOD IS SHARED WITH THE FAMILY
Every prize, no matter how small, is brought back to share with the family. Their appetites continue to grow in proportion to their size, and soon they will begin hunting their own food.
They are learning to be cautious, but at this age they still don't quite know what to be cautious of.
One, bolder than the rest, learns the hardest way of all.
OWL CATCHES MOUSE
In the nest, the others continue to play, unaware that now they are only two. It's an unusual mouse of any kind that reaches its first birthday.
Before long, both parents return, as if aware that something has happened. They don't need to be able to count to know that one of them is missing.
Is it too much to think that such a close family would try in some way to console each other, even if they are "just mice?"
Grasshopper mice have many burrows, which the female helps the male to dig burrows for safety, for storing food, and for defecation. In their business, they don't notice this deer mouse watching until it decides to take a closer look.
TRAPPED DEER MOUSE/ATTACKED
Suddenly it finds itself trapped among the cactus pads by two balls of fury. Another deer mouse, probably its mate, remains warily at a distance.
Soon, with a bite to the back of the neck, it's all over.
GRASSHOPPER MICE EATING DEER MOUSE
Terrible as it may seem, it's a survival tactic of many animals to devour their prey headfirst, since that's the part most likely to strike back.
TIME-LAPSE OF BLOOMING CACTUS
Nights pass and days pass and the desert is sweet with blooming cactus.
Now almost fully grown, the young grasshopper mice are testing their newly acquired hunting skills on crickets, and meeting some of the strange night creatures that compete with them for insects.
This Pallid bat seems to want to hunt like a mouse. These bats are often found searching for food on the ground as well as in the air.
It's Spring, the season of plenty, and there's more than enough for everybody.
It is also a season of learning, when curiosity seems more important than competition.
As potential prey, the Bat is not nearly as appetizing as a Cricket. This young one is now ready to assume its role as a unique and amazing hunter among rodents.
Nature is just full of surprises. For me, one of the strangest has been discovering this "tiger" among mice. I was amazed to find a carnivorous rodent that actively preys on such a wide range of creatures, many of them deadly. What fascinates me even more is that this ferocious little hunter forms such close family ties. Even though the Grasshopper Mouse is a paradox among rodents, it does have its place in the animal world. Think, for instance, how it keeps potential pests like grasshoppers, locusts, and other rodents under control, not to mention scorpions. Nature has an unusual asset-and man a valuable ally, in these "KILLER MICE".
I'm Marty Stouffer. Until next time, enjoy our WILD AMERICA.