There are likely only a few more urgent alarms than the shriek, “There’s a mouse!”.
The scream happens all the time, in palaces and grass huts, cathedrals and brothels, and all dwellings in between. Everyone has to deal with the furry, long tailed, with floppy ears and inquisitive eyed creatures.
Inventors, homesteaders and business tycoons have mulled endless hours over the best techniques to manage or temporarily eliminate the persistent four legged mammals. Poisons have been developed, as well as, primitive earthen hole traps dug, along with a long list of other attempts: sticky paper traps, snap traps, live traps, electronic traps, five gallon bucket traps, pop bottle traps, dogs, and more common, the household hero-predator, the cat.
But the most “successful” mouse eliminator in history had a rather curious start. Wooden fishing lures, coleslaw and popcorn are behind the invention of the snap trap, which is still American made and still produced with a few minor modifications.
The mechanical snap trap, was developed in 1895, by John Mast of Lititz, Pennsylvania, who owned a three story brick building in which all three products were produced and enjoyed by mice a little too much before they were shipped to customers.
Masts’s device was simple, ingenious and inexpensive; it was destined to become an American icon. Within seconds of a mouse nibbling on bait placed on a metal pedal, mounted on a simple piece of pine wood, a metal striker would slam into the unfortunate animal with deadly force.
The patent for the device was granted in 1903 and has been a huge success ever since. It was an ethical improvement over earlier devices which trapped the mouse or mice alive, eliminating the decision to either release them or kill them, since the mouse was already dead.. It was cleaner than the previous traps which either impaled or beheaded the mouse. Since George Washington Carver recently added peanut butter to American cuisine at about the time of the 1903 patent, it is uncertain if Mast used cabbage, lures or popcorn for bait in the 1895 mouse trap trial tests.
Peanut butter, today, is a common bait to use in traps which are almost identical to those in 1895. When the shriek of mouse rattles through a home, it is usually because someone saw Mus musculus, the common household mouse, the likely identical species Mast had to deal with in his diversified factory.
The household mouse likely arrived on colonial ships in the New World from Europe. As settlements spread so did the mouse; Mus musculus follows human activity. and are, perhaps, the second most common mammal, next to man, on the planet. They hardly weigh an ounce and are not much larger than four or five inches with long hairless tails. Often nocturnal, mice can jump, climb, swim and squeeze through tiny cracks.
They are early, prolific breeders; female mice reach sexual maturity at about six weeks, while males are late bloomers at eight weeks. The female can produce up too ten litters a year. The “Mouse!” shriek can usually mean there are a dozen or more; the average litter size is six.
Mice can be dangerous. Mice can do a lot of damage to a home, electrical wiring comes to mind first, and they can contaminate household and pet food supplies. Mice can also carry several very serious diseases to humans some with fatal consequences, including rabies and salmonellosis. They will eat their own droppings which can then further contaminate improperly stored human food supplies.
The wild house mouse should never be handled. The common house mouse can cause serious food contamination problems in agricultural areas in livestock feed and storage facilities. While perhaps not as serious a problem as rats, mice are a constant day to day battle on many farms.
Mus musculus does have some good benefits; they are important in medical research, in biology labs and in psychological experiments. They are small creatures, easy to maintain and rather inexpensive to feed and reproduce rapidly. The research involving Mus musculus has led to many important advances which have helped to improve the quality of human life.
For many of the same laboratory reasons, some people enjoy the small mammals as entertaining pets. In the UK there is the 100 year old National Mouse Club and in the US there is the Rat and Mouse Club of America.
The wild house mouse is likely here to stay and the 1895 snap trap remains one of the best management devices invented despite over 4,000 US patents in the search for a “better mousetrap”. Cleanliness, proper home and farm food storage, good construction techniques and the family cat are all part of the management equation.
The time-honored and successful mechanical snap traps are still manufactured in Lititz, Pennsylvania, about ten million per year by the Woodstream Corporation and the cost is still relatively inexpensive. Other products are also available from other mouse business companies in the US and across the globe.
A mouse in the house means it is acceptable to scream but it also means, take action. There are varied methods to take. But always be sure if using a mechanical trap to bail it first, then set the striker, and be gentle; those things hurt.