Adorable But Deadly Deer Mice

Where This Rodent Lives And So Much More

Deer Mouse - tail may reach 5 inches. Coastal British Columbia, Canada. Peromyscus maniculatus.
Thomas Kitchin & Victoria Hurst/First Light/Getty Images

As cute as it appears to be, the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) can be a very deadly creature. As a carrier of hantavirus, a very serious disease affecting your lungs, this type of mouse has been found responsible for transmitting this serious illness and causing three deaths at Yosemite Park in 2012.

Features

It is called a deer mouse because it somewhat resembles a very small deer. The mouse's upper body is grey to reddish-brown, its underbelly and legs are white, and its tail has two colors: dark on top and white on the sides and bottom.

With big eyes and prominent, leaf-like ears, the deer mouse is a deceptively cute creature. Its head and body measure about two to three inches long, and its tail is just as long as its body.

Natural Habitat

Although the deer mouse prefers woodlands and rural areas, it will also make its home in urban areas and cities. It may live about anywhere it finds a concealed home and nearby food, such as in underground burrows, brush piles, and weedy or grassy areas; under logs, stumps, or rocks; in abandoned dens of other animals, and the natural cavities of trees.

Deadly Disease Carrier

This cute-looking rodent is the primary carrier of hantavirus in the U.S. Hantavirus is transmitted through the inhalation of contaminated air as well as through contact with mouse urine, feces, or the saliva of infected rodents.

Although it is the primary carrier, the deer mouse is not the only carrier of the disease. The hantavirus is also carried by other rodents: the white-footed mouse, the cotton rat, and the rice rat.

White-footed mouse: Closely resembling the deer mouse, it is found in many areas of the U.S., including the eastern coast from the South up through southern New England, the Midwest and the West, as well as Mexico. Like the deer mouse, this mouse prefers concealed homes, but it will also live in open areas.

Cotton rat: With a head and body that measures five to seven inches in length and its tail adding another three to four inches, this rodent is much larger than the deer mouse. In the U.S., this rat is found primarily in the Southeast, and it prefers to live in areas that are overgrown with weeds, shrubs, or tall grass.

Rice rat: Though smaller than the cotton rat, the rice rat is still larger than the deer mouse. As its name would indicate, this semi-aquatic rat prefers wet and marshy areas like rice paddies. In the U.S., it is found primarily in the Southeast.

Hantavirus and Its Prevention

Since it was first recognized in 1993, more than half the people who have been diagnosed with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome have died from the disease. And there is still no recognized cure. During the summer of 2012, eight people contracted the disease at Yosemite National Park, three died by early fall.

The most important thing you can do to prevent contracting hantavirus is to avoid contact with these mice, the areas in which they are known to be, and the areas where infestations are or have been present. Also, you can take steps to prevent rodents in and around your home, workplace, or campsite.

  • Seal holes and gaps in your home or garage.
  • Place traps in and around your home to decrease rodent infestation.
  • Clean up litter and piles where rodents like to live and breed.
  • Clean up and/or put away exposed food to make it less attractive and less accessible to rodents (and other pests).
  • Employ defensive standard rodent control methods and simple methods of pest deterrents.