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Muffin's Story
Part 4
© Angela Horn and James, 1999.

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

A note from James, who has lots of emails asking about Muffin and wild mice:

One of the things I have realized is how accidental all this has been for me. When people ask me what to do with their wild mice, my immediate response is to tell them to release the mice. I would have done exactly this had I not caught mine in the middle of winter. If it had been summer I would never have come to know Muffin or experience the entire wild circus.

James - July 20, 1999:

Muffin is fine right now and appears to have settled in nicely to domestic life with Prawn. The other night I mixed her with the other females - in a neutral cage -and there was a "cat fight." Goldie lost a bit of her right ear and Muffin's tail was bleeding. She has her good days and bad days. Despite the fact she can be nervous at times if I appear by the cage, once I lift her out she is fine, as is Prawn.

My runt male is still that, a runt. No large than my pinky. However I should tell you a joke I played on the wife.

I was visiting the store where I have purchased all my Fancy mice. while there I noticed three silver grays, and despite my wife's warning NOT to buy more mice I decided I had to have one of these stunning creatures. Turned out they were all male so it was a no go.

While digging for them in their cage, I was constantly approached by a large pregnant female colored exactly like Muffin and Prawn. She would run up and place her front paws on my hand as if screaming "take me home please, get me out of this mad house." I made an agreement with the store owner that I could return any resulting babies and took the female home.

How to explain this new arrival to the wife? Easy. For a week she never saw the new female. During that time I spun a yarn that I had been feeding the runt Prawn some of my protein shakes, not to mention bacon fat in order to make him grow. When she finally met the very pregnant female she was convinced it was Prawn, despite the fact he had apparently grown to five times his original size.

Well, my wife being a health freak, it suited her to believe Bacon fat could have such an effect. During that time she held the came to know the female before I broke the news. She laughed, more at her own gullibility than anything else. Especially when I took her down stairs to remind her just how small Prawn still is.

So I named the new female Thumper because of her constant tail rattling. I've seen this "rattling" many times when other mice have become involved in fights. Thumper however will do it when she's alone in a cage. You would expect her to be nervous with this, but no. She enjoys being handled.

At first I placed her with Goldie and Cocoa, two other females. For a while all seemed fine, then all hell broke loose one day. Suddenly all three were going at each other. Why I have no idea. All three appeared to be checking the genitals of the others then having a scrap. Thumper was not the problem as Goldie and Cocoa would fight when she was not around. Perhaps you have a reason for this behavior? My guess is that it has something to do with being in heat.

Angela: Yes, this sounds likely...

In response I split all three of them up for a while. Now all three are back together and Thumper appears ready to drop any day now.

As I said in the previous post I found Prawn bumping uglies with Goldie and Cocoa but both appear not to be pregnant. Fawn is however, and although she lives with my other Fancy male Sprog, I am not sure who the father might be. Considering just how small Prawn is though, I wonder if a brood of his would even bulge one of the much larger fancy mice? We shall see.

Note from Angela: The size of the Dad is unlikely to have much effect upon the size of the babies at birth. The size of the mother is more important as mother animals have to grow babies small enough to get out! Also, since Prawn's smallness may well be the result of his bad start in life, he may not be genetically small - it could be that he just wasn't able to achieve his genetic potential because of circumstances. If that's the case, there's no reason why his babies should be small.

Like I said Muffin is fine and I have seen her and Prawn doing the "tackle tango" a few times. Thus far she does not appear to be pregnant. Would a female past her prime continue to have sex?

Angela: Yes, if she's still coming into heat. She could be coming into heat but not actually be fertile - lots of mice are like that.

One more thing. I remember something that happened a while back with two of the other wild mice who I have since released. The Male and female 2 were in their cage playing on the wheel. Unlike Fancy mice, wild mice go absolutely nuts on these wheels.

Angela: Actually lots of fancy mice are nuts about wheels too!

Anyway, I was nearby when I heard a clanging sound, as if one of the mice had thrown itself against the cage bars. I looked inside the cage and found Female 2 on the floor of the cage, spinning in circles while lying on her side. To me it appeared as if she had seriously injured herself, and was writhing in agony on the floor.

I quickly dismantled the cage as she spun, dreading the idea of having to put her to sleep if she were crippled badly. I lifted her out and she lay in my hand suffering spasms which very quickly passed. As she was less tame than Muffin, I held on to her tail. Suddenly she appeared to realize he position, in my hand, and tried to jump. I quickly placed her back in the cage with the Male where she returned to playing on the wheel as if nothing had happened. So what did happen?

Angela: Sounds to me like she was probably trying to climb on the wheel when the other mice were spinning it fast, and hit her head falling off. She probably had a fit, which is common in small animals after a head injury. Or she may have had a temporary disturbance in her inner ear as a result of the bang, which upset her balance and made her circle on the floor. This is common in animals with head injuries and also after strokes and inner ear infections.

Something to note was the fact she was a week away from giving birth, which might explain a hormonal imbalance. My theory is much simpler however. The silly mouse became so dizzy on the wheel she lost it completely. Wild mice when on the wheel together tend to take turns running, while the other just hangs on for the ride. Well, she had a habit of hanging onto the OUTSIDE of the wheel. I suspect her partner ran so fast and so long, she suffered the resulting G forces.

I will keep you updated of any major changes, like if Muffin should give birth. It'll be interesting to see how she handles motherhood. Funny how she rejected all other males but fell for little Prawn in such a big way. Perhaps his size negates the need for her to beat his ass like she did all others?

James - August 7, 1999:

Muffin and Prawn are well and very much alive.

My attempt to house Sprog the male Fancy mouse and Prawn the miniature wild male have failed miserably. Despite his being half Sprog's size, Prawn somehow managed to beat the living daylights out of Sprog leaving him badly bitten around the face, rear and tail. This happened overnight and was so bad Sprog lost an inch of his tail two days later as he healed.

Angela: It can be very hard to introduce adult male fancy mice,which are far more docile than wild mice; I'm not surprised that the wild boy wasn't having any of this!

I removed Sprog and placed him with Fawn - the pregnant Fancy mouse - so that he might recover in the company of a friendly face. His progress was quick and in no time he was back to his old self. In the meantime I placed Prawn with Muffin and they got along fine.

I have noticed however Muffin appears to be losing weight of late. I know it's not from lack of food so I am going to assume it's old age. As I look back I often wonder if Muffin was perhaps mother to all the other mice who visited our home.

Despite her living with Sprog the male fancy mouse, and Prawn the midget wild male, she never became pregnant. I suspect she may be past the age for rearing pups now, but it's never stopped Prawn's interest that's for sure. I'm not sure if a male would continue to mate with an old female doe, so who knows.

Angela: A male mouse will generally try to shag any female mouse who shows the slightest sign of being in heat - whether she's young and beautiful or not! He doesn't know whether she's infertile - all he knows is that she's receptive, which is the main thing...

The other day I decided to give Muffin a break from the Prawn and put her in with the girls for a while, Goldie and Cocoa. Well there's never a month passes when Muffin doesn't return to her wild roots with mad dash escape attempts. In the blink of an eye she was gone behind the worktop and into the bowels of the house from whence she came.

As usual when this happens, I set up a special cage for Muffin in the basement back room, loaded with grub and her favorite wheel. I checked several times during the day. Six hours after her escape I switched the backroom light on and found her on her wheel.

As I approached the cage she made a run for it. I leaped across the basement with a glass of coke in one hand and managed to block off her escape with my free hand. I was surprised how nervous she appeared, considering we'd gone through this routine many times. As I watched, she ran back into the cage through the tubing, before doubling back at high speed.

I felt her slam headfirst into my palm, followed by the sensation of teeth trying to eat their way through it. Once I was finished screaming like a big pansy, I returned Muffin to another cage with Goldie and Cocoa. I was reminded of George Orwells 1984 and the rat scene, where the protagonist is threatened with some rodent face eating as they attempt to escape.

Muffin has not bitten me since soon after he initial capture, so I'm at a loss to her recent behavior. Once again I believe it's her nature. Despite all that's happened, Muffin was and always will be wild. Yes she enjoys being handled and hanging out, but at other times her instinct kicks in.

If she could talk I'm sure the conversation would go something like this.

"Muffin, why did you bite me today?"

"Sorry James, couldn't help it, you scared me."

"Muffin don't you enjoy all your cages and toys?"

"Yeah, but I'd rather use your house as one BIG cage, that way I could eat and poo wherever I wanted to. Just like the old days."

"You know I can't allow that Muffin, it's unsanitary. If you want I could release you outside?"

"Na, tried that remember? Too many cats and dogs and there's no wheels where I come from, gotta have the wheel, gotta have the wheel."

"On the subject of wheels Muffin, can you explain your deep fascination with the wheel?"

"It's hypnotic. I can't help myself. Don't you see, there's nothing quite like running nowhere fast? I know you'll catch me if I stay too long in those trap cages, but the wheel.. it holds me. Should I be in therapy?"

"No, I should for thinking I can communicate with you. Can I get you anything nice to eat while I'm out?"

"Oh.. oh.. more smoked salmon, can't get enough of it. Scottish smoked salmon if you can find it. Served with a little blob of peanut butter. And don't forget those chocolate finger cookies. Just jam a couple through the bars, and I'll be cool."

"Away and play on your wheel Muffin, goodnight."

On July 23rd I noticed Fawn and her present partner Sprog the male, were sleeping at either end of their cage setup. As I said before Fawn was pregnant, but overnight she had made a nest inside an external plastic wheel. On closer examination I discovered she had given birth to eight pups. I immediately removed Sprog from the setup to prevent further pregnancies and gave him a cage of his own.

My latest edition, the big mud brown female Thumper also gave birth on the same day in a different setup. Ten pups. The father of those children lives in a pet shop miles away, so it will be interesting to see what color they take on.

The father of Fawn's pups can only be one of two culprits, Sprog the black and white Fancy mouse, or Prawn, the stunted male wild mouse. Who will it turn out to be? If it's Sprog the pups should show marbling of their coats in a few days, if they are purely shades of brown it must be Prawn.

Angela: Agouti (wild-type) grey-brown colouring is dominant to most colour forms found in domesticated mice, so Prawn's babies would be brown. HOWEVER, if Fawn is the colour I think she is, then she is actually a 'dilute' agouti, so mated to a black fancy mouse she would also produce some brown/agouti babies. White markings are often recessive so you might not see any on babies even if Sprog is the father - or sometimes just a little on fingers, toes and chests. It depends on the gene -if his markings are dominant then you might recognise them on the babies. Also remember that Prawn and Sprog could BOTH have fathered different babies in the same litter!

I will be very interested to see what a Fancy/Wild mouse hybrid looks like, not to mention how it behaves. I have to say I was caught on the hop, and did not expect such miniature mass squeakage for a few days yet.

Fawn and Thumper's cages were due a clean up and I had run out of Aspen bedding which the mothers seem to prefer. So that Sunday I decided to move mothers and babies to clean cages and hoped they would not become too upset with me. As you know I've successfully handled wild babies in the presence of their mother, and I was pretty sure with Fawn and Thumper being tame mice things would be fine.

I removed Fawn from her cage and allowed her to explore the worktop while I dismantled her cage. I left the babies in their wheel and placed it nearby so she might visit them. During all this she climbed on my shoulder and sat there watching as I set about my task. I moved as quickly as possible and in no time Fawn's cage was cleaned and ready. I placed her inside and opened one of the side doors. She then stuck her head out and I dismantled her wheel nest so that she could see her babies. As I held the wheel alongside the door, Fawn went back and forth lifting them out one by one to place in the cage. She was extremely cool about the whole thing.

I then repeated the whole procedure with Thumper's identical cage, which was my first chance to see her babies. It was clear there was a size difference between the two pup colonies. Thumper's were a third bigger than Fawn's. Having said that Thumper's a bigger mouse.

I checked Thumper's babies and discovered a casualty. It was tiny compared to the rest of the litter and had obviously died soon after birth. On further examination I found another tiny pup which was clearly listless and headed for the same fate as its dead sibling. I decided Thumper's runt would stand more of a chance among Fawn's smaller litter and so moved it. Rather than raise Fawn's litter to 9, I exchanged the biggest of Fawn's pups with Thumper's.

I checked several hours later and nobody appeared to have noticed the switch. I did however retain old bedding from both birth sites when cleaning the cages, so that both cages would retain some of the smell. I also used that bedding to mask the baby switch. Obviously it won't be too difficult to tell the odd babies in each litter when their coats come in. I haven noticed however that Thumper's runt placed in Fawn's litter still appears to be listless, so it might all turn out to be a waste of time, we'll see.

I also have the problem of what to do with all these babies come a few weeks. Thumper's pups I can return to the pet shop, Fawn's if they are Fancy/Wild hybrids present a different problem. I'm going to try and see if there are mouse fanciers in the Baltimore - Maryland area who might be interested in some unusual editions to their colonies.

I'm not sure such hybrids would survive in the wild, but I should point out they do exist out there. Couple of weeks ago while out driving at night I caught sight of a brown and white spotted mouse scampering across a road near here. I can only assume it's the product of a Fancy mouse release or escape. You can imagine my surprise because you would expect such a clearly visible creature to have fallen prey to something long ago.

Angela: Maybe, but not necessarily. I can think of 3 possibilities:
  1. This is a wild mouse with white spotting. Pretty much all the colour mutations which crop up in domesticated mice, will crop up in the wild from time to time - but not in all the combinations. Brown and white wouldn't be that difficult to arrange, though - especially if the white spotting was dominant. Such a wild mouse would still have trouble surviving because it would be conspicuous, but they are hardy little things.

  2. This is a pet mouse which has escaped - they do sometimes survive outdoors, but usually not for long. It might have only just escaped.

  3. Maybe it's a wild/pet hybrid, but I think that's the least likely option as to survive in the wild you'd expect a domesticated male to mate with a hardy wild female - but how did the domesticated male get to her? Possible, but unlikely.

James - Thursday July 29, 1999:

The runt placed with Fawn's litter is up to full strength. I'm positive if I had left it with its much larger siblings it would have died just like the other.

Both mothers appear to be doing well as are the babies, all seventeen of them. As much funs as all this is, I did not want babies in the first place. I knew Thumper was pregnant when I brought her home, but I have an agreement with the store to return her offspring. I have no such agreement regarding Fawn. Unless I can convince the store to take Fawn's litter it will be a zoo around here.

I am going to look into the idea of having Sprog "fixed" to prevent further accidents. However if Fawn's pups prove to have been fathered by Prawn, I really cannot turn them into a pet store. A Fancy/Wild Hybrid would run amok in such conditions, and people purchasing mice there would have more than they could handle.

Wild mice are bionic you know. I know my wild mice are disease free, having had them seven months now. Even the Fancy Mice have never become ill from their living with Muffin and Prawn. The problem is temperament. Ideally a Fancy/Wild hybrid would have good looks AND a lively spirit. And with a stronger constitution would be less likely to come down with illness. Who knows. I refuse to become one of those breeders who ends up taking a degree in genetics. All that matters is that my mice are happy and live a full and joyous life. I treat them no differently from my two dogs, they're part of the family.

I look forward and wonder if more wild visitors might arrive during the coming winter. On the one hand I should really do a survey of the house to block all possible entrance points. Then again I wonder who might come to visit.

James - August 4, 1999:

The babies from Fawn and Thumper's litters are now 12 days old. The mystery of who fathered Fawn's pups is solved, it's Sprog. In fact the pup switched from Fawn to Thumper's litter has almost identical markings, black spots on white. The rest of Fawn's litter are colored light brown on white, light brown and a light silver grey. Except for one very dark brown pup, Thumper's runt which was switched.

It's my intention to solve Sprog's situation by keeping one of his son's from Fawn's litter as a life mate. When it comes to pairing males together, I fear a wild - fancy mouse combination will never work. No matter how big the cage setup, the tougher wild mouse will always sense the weakness of his tame companion and exploit it to his hearts content. Despite Sprog being so badly beaten that day, his half-sized companion Prawn did not even have a scratch. So I would say as a rule, female wild mice can live with tame mice, but not the males. It's possible if I'd left Sprog with Prawn things might have settled, but he was so badly beaten I was not going to risk his life in finding out.

Two nights ago I placed Sprog on top of the one wire cage I use. Beneath him inside the cage were Muffin, Goldie, Cocoa and the Prawn. Sprog had only me for company for the previous 4 days and I wanted him to see his old friends again.

Now I think Prawn might be sterile due to his size. He was with all the females before and nothing came of it. I want to know for sure. If Goldie and Cocoa do not become pregnant, housing Prawn in future will be much easier.

Anyway, when Prawn saw Sprog on top of the cage he went berserk. I'm assuming his antics were an attempt to protect his little mouse Harem. Prawn climbed the side of the cage and bit Sprog through the bars, forcing me to remove Sprog completely. Prawn then proceeded to chase Muffin, Goldie and Cocoa all over the cage, going as far to nip them into corners.

When this continued for 5 minutes, I removed him to be housed in a new cage I call the "cooler." It's another SAM unit but much smaller than the rest. Inside there's only enough room for a wheel and some bedding. Water and food are housed externally. The cooler is where bad mice go to cool off.

And so to sum up, Fawn and Thumper have 17 pups between them and I expect their little eyes to open today or tomorrow. I will of course be taking photos of their exploits on the wheel once it has been discovered. Muffin is back to her old self, sitting on my shoulder while I go about cleaning all the cages. And no biting, so I guess we're friends again!

From James (clansman7@aol.com)

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