This story was originally published on mouse@horns by Angela Horn.
It is reproduced here with permission from Angela Horn.
I retrieved this story from the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.
Unfortunately I was unable
to retrieve most of the pictures. I did manage to get 2 pictures which I've included. - paul
James - April 25, 1999:
One week after the birth of the wild mice litter they were still alive. I decided since they appeared to be almost out of the cannibal danger period to clean the cage. This involved the mother and her pups being secured in their nest, something she's experienced often since her incarceration.
The cage was then cleaned and the single family returned to their original position without incident. Muffin, Fawn and the new big female fancy mouse COOKIE, were all getting along fine at this time too, as were the other two, the wild male and female pair.
Now I've seen pregnant fancy mice and they look more like rats, identifying a pregnant wild mouse is much tougher due to their smaller size. Having said that I've been developing an eye for it. I suspected the single female was pregnant and I was right. I also suspected the other female paired with the male was due too, I also knew that female had eaten and abandoned her previous litter.
Well, four days ago I awoke to find the paired female had indeed given birth to another litter, I knew this because five torn and bleeding little bodies were scattered around her cage. I'm sure you've seen this before, it's not very nice. Now I'm not sure whether the male had a hand in this or not, but she was not with him when this happened earlier. I guess the fact she did not build a proper nest from the available materials was a give away. The other female built a fortress in one day, a sure sign babies were coming.
Anyway, while I was preparing to clean out the dead pups from the cage, I heard the unmistakable squeaking of another live pup from within the parents little cabin. I immediately placed the cage in the bath and took it all apart to find father and mother sitting over one lone survivor of the litter.
What to do? My first move was to remove the father. I knew this might make little difference but I wanted to give the mother a chance to get her act together. I watched her from a distance for an hour and she was simply not interested in that baby, not in rearing it anyway. I checked on the pup and found it listless and cold. This was obviously because the mother had not milked it since birth which could have been as long as eight hours previously.
Well, the difference here was 7 to 8 days. I decided to move fast. I separated female 1 from her cage and litter and decided to have a look. Inside the nest box 7 pups already with hair on their backs and about three times the size of the orphan. I decided to give it a go anyway. I knew the orphan would have a tough time trying to feed with the other bigger cousins around, but it was this or letting the pup die.
So I gave it a good rub in bedding from the first nest, that is the wool like Malamute dog hair I use for them all. I then placed the orphan in with the others, closed it up, and returned female 1 to her cage. She immediately checked on her pups and I was sure she would not do anything drastic due to the break. Next day I checked for the corpse of the orphan perhaps lying in the cage. I was sure if she killed it or the pup just died she would remove it from the nest, but there was no sign of the orphan.
That same day I decided to release the other wild pair, the male and the female. Neither of them were adapting to captive life, at least not like Muffin or female 1. At dawn I drove to a field where some outside structures were available as well as crops. I then released them both and wished them the best of luck.
It was 24 hours since I had rehoused the orphan and I wanted to check on its progress. Again I waited until the mother was playing on her wheel before quietly removing the nest box from the other end of the tube maze. Inside I found the orphan still alive. But was it alive because of the body contact with the other babies or had it actually been feeding? I put everyone back and waited another 24 hours.
The orphan was still alive. He - I think -- was bright, animated and appeared to be doing OK. But again was he feeding? If not he would have to have gone 3 days without milk by this time. Can a pup survive that long without nourishment?
I decided to try something just in case he had not fed. I built an identical nest box attached to the opposite end of the mother's cage. In this I placed new clean bedding as well as some from the old box. I then removed little pinkie orphan and one of his larger cousins and placed them together in the new nestbox.
Now these nestboxes are basically plastic containers with flaps on top, called hamster lookout posts or something. As part of the Sam habitrail system you can connect them to the cage in various ways using the numerous lengths and shapes of tubing. Well, the two boxes were identical, as were the tubes leading them to the main cage.
I removed the mother, closed off the old nest containing 6 babies and opened access to cage number 2. My thinking was, if the orphan has only one partner to compete for the milk, he's sure of nourishment. Makes sense right? Well, mummy was not happy at all. She was more interested in the six missing pups than the two I had segregated for her. Wild mice can be jumpy most of the time anyway, but I immediately sensed her distress. Where are my children she was saying? I immediately opened the flap to the original cage and she ran across to check on the others. I then apologized for my interference and switched the light off and left.
An hour later I returned for a peek and I was rather surprised at what I found. Nest number one, the original one, had been stripped of babies and bedding. The mother had moved everything into the new cage I had prepared. Why did she do this I wondered? Surely it would have been easier to move two babies over to join the other six? In the end it didn't matter, the orphan was still alive.
Well, yesterday I decided to check the pups again. It was four days since the orphan's rehousing and I was certain if he were still alive he MUST have been receiving attention from the mother. I say this because there's no way he could beat the other seven to the bottle as it were, she must have been singling him out in some way.
Although I was concerned about the Mummy becoming distressed, she appeared to have become used to my peeking. In fact often she would stop playing on her wheel, watch me remove the nestbox, then turn away to continue playing on her wheel. Keep in mind I would not have bothered checking the pups were it not for the orphan.
Anyway the orphan was still alive. Although his development was definitely slower than usual, his skin was developing a pigment and he appeared livelier than ever. I decided to quit peeking and let the step mother get on with it, obviously something was going right.
I then went on a mouse housing shopping spree, visiting three different stores for various bits and pieces. It occurred to me I had one mother and eight babies housed in one cage, and it was not the biggest. I assumed the mother was very aware of her surroundings and what it would mean to eight babies moving around, she needed more space. So I rehoused her in the largest habitrail cage and bought lots of mice sized tubing, the tiny ones. With these I built a maze that surrounded the cage, the idea being I was building a nursery and hopefully the Mother would appreciate the extra room for the coming days. Her own babies were after all moving about a lot in that nestbox and would soon be leaving it. In addition I purchased a much larger water bottle giving her two, as well as placing two large food dishes inside.
On your site, you suggested the mother's fear of not having food to provide was a reason for killing the babies. Well, I wanted this mother to have no fear in that department. I also purchased a nestbox twice the size of the one she had been using to that point. By this time I knew what she liked when it came to setting up a nest. First of all she did not like a nestbox with an exit in the floor, this meant the babies might crawl out and wander. I know this because she would block it so tight she would have trouble getting in herself. I also know she does this to reduce drafts, that's my opinion anyway, even though there are none. Knowing all this I arranged the larger box so that the exit hole was on the roof, and using an S bend arrangement of tubing it would prevent any pups wandering. I filled it with fresh dog hair and set it up on one of the other cage side doors.
An hour later she had moved the family again, this time physically moving the orphan to another cage. Previously she had moved other babies to join the orphan. I knew from this she was not ignoring the orphan, far from it. Once the move was completed I could also see through the dog hair how she had them all arranged. Four were placed at one end and four at the other. To me this would explain how the orphan was managing to feed. What do you think?
been a sport. When I set up the nursery, I had her closed in her nestbox with the babies. By now she knows exactly what this means, the home is being rearranged. When I connected the nestbox to the nursery she shot out and began exploring, I think it has her approval.
Although she's never been as tame as Muffin, this female does have her moments. If I walk up to her setup and place my nose against one of the many tubes, she will often run around to inspect me, all this when she has babies to protect. Something tells me that she actually knows I mean her no harm and the fact she has no problem with me checking the kids suggests she's settled into the notion of captivity and that what she has is now home. Is that possible? Or am I merely indulging myself in wishful thinking?
Anyway I now have a lot of mice and the problem of what to do with them. I'm thinking if I release all the young males together once matured they should do OK together. I know for a fact this area in which I live is teeming with mice, I sometimes see them while driving at night. As I write this tonight the orphan thrives. I will tell you of developments. Even now I fear for its survival and expect the worst, but I have to say the little guy is a fighter.
Earlier tonight I noticed Fawn was kind of listless. Closer examination revealed a healing wound on her back. I should point out Fawn has not grown since I bought her, I think she's some sort of dwarf mouse, we'll see. Anyway I know for a fact Muffin was the aggressor, so Muffin is in isolation while Fawn hangs out with Cookie until she's strong again.
I also bought what has become without a doubt the favorite toy of the mice. It's a vertical maze which you fill with bedding and has 4 different exits, one on either side and two on top. This means I can connect tubes to it from all directions and the mice just love tunneling in it. In fact they often sleep there rather than their usual nestbox.
My plan is this. Once the babies have been weaned -- the original seven that is - I am going to let them mix with Fawn and Cookie in one mass setup. Mother 1 will remain with the orphan while Muffin will be tested to see if she can behave in a colony of baby mice. I will remove any young males before they reach maturity of course, otherwise I could have a disaster of biblical proportions.
Like I said, my gut tells me the orphan will die along the way, but I really hope I'm wrong, he's earned his right to live, what with bad parents and bullying over milk rations. I've been taking pictures during all this and will email some if you're interested. Hope you are well. James:-)