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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 13:57 GMT
'I hate cunning super mieces to pieces'
A mouse
"Poison? I'll give it a miss"
Forget about Mickey. The UK's mice are incontinent, disease-carrying vermin. And what's worse, finds BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley, they are getting wise to our attempts to eliminate them.

Fairy tales, Beatrix Potter and cartoons have lulled many of us into treating the common house mouse with an indulgence its ratty rodent cousins surely envy.

No matter how good our poisons are, if the mice won't take the bait, we can't kill them

Richard Strand
Seeing a plum-sized mus musculus scurrying across my kitchen floor hardly made my evening. But had I instead spied the naked tail of rattus rattus disappearing behind the cooker, I would certainly have been checking into a hotel until the exterminator gave the all clear.

My concerns would have been heightened had I known my guest was one of a growing band of urban mice with a tolerance to poisons and - most worryingly - an increasing unwillingness to have any truck with baits or traps.

Roland Rat
Rats have a PR problem
UK exterminators have seen significantly more mice giving poison baits a wide berth in the past decade, says Richard Strand, executive director of the British Pest Control Association.

"We've witnessed the rise of behavioural resistance in mice. Where once they'd have gone quite happily into bait boxes, the past 10 years have seen them change their behaviour quite distinctly."

(Not) taking the bait

This bait shyness has been particularly pronounced in urban centres, such as London and Birmingham, raising concerns that city mouse populations may begin to grow unchecked.

"There's definitely a problem and certainly more mice as a result of this," says Mr Strand. "No matter how good our poisons are, if the mice won't take the bait, we can't kill them."

"Difenacoum? It's mother's milk to me"
Unfortunately, even the poisons in the exterminators' arsenal aren't as good as they used to be. So-called "first generation" anti-coagulants (which once caused UK mice to bleed to death) lost their deadly potency many years ago.

However, mice now seem to have developed a tolerance to certain of the poisons which were introduced to replace the original batch of defeated rodenticides.

Both difenacoum and bromadiolone have been shown to have only limited success in controlling infestations in certain parts of the UK.

Super mouse

Added to the house mouse's already prodigious talent to evade capture in our homes and businesses, bait-shyness and poison resistance could herald the arrival of the urban "super mouse".

Say "rat" and most people will immediately think of the Black Death, but thanks to pernicious propagandising by the likes of Walt Disney, the UK's 400 million mice are often seen as the lesser of the two rodent evils.

"Mice are more of a pest and a greater risk to public health than rats," says Mr Strand.

Prince Charles presents a design award
"Put this trap under the cooker, will you?"
Since mice are agile climbers and able to squeeze through gaps just six millimetres in diameter, they are far more likely to find their way into buildings. And once inside your home, mice are far more likely to set up shop for good in their favoured hiding places - under the cooker, fridge or bath.

Apart for shredding wooden cupboards, doors and skirting boards with their diamond-sharp teeth, electrical cables gnawed by mice ignite fires in the UK every year.

Wee beasty

Once installed, a mouse can also cause contamination seemingly disproportionate to its tiny size. A single mouse can produce 50 droppings a day, and - thanks to the species' utter lack of bladder control - leave a constant trail of urine in its wake.

Mouse eating habits also mean that even if they have a ready supply of food right in front of them, they will nevertheless go looking for something else to nibble.

Hence, a salmonella-carrying mouse can contaminate perhaps 10 times as much food as it actually eats.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse
"Minnie and I are incontinent"
Had I been armed with knowledge of just how many diseases and parasites my mouse could introduce to my home, I perhaps would not have initially opted to tackle the critter myself.

"Lots of people feel they can deal with the problem themselves," says veteran pest controller Jon Carter. "When they fail, they call me."

Rather than seeking professional advice, I employed a technique borrowed from a timely question on a Radio 4 panel show, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.


Humphrey Lyttelton: "How do you humanely catch mice?"

Barry Cryer: "It depends on who's throwing them."

"Humph" went on to enlighten listeners that a large glass jar, chocolate biscuit crumbs and a ramp running to the lip of the receptacle would do the trick.

Holding a mouse
Many people tackle problem mice themselves
Within mere hours, I had a jarred mouse ready for release and resettlement beyond my front door. Crushingly, just minutes after this triumph, I had a re-installed mouse. And one made wiser by its brief incarceration.

"Mice are very intelligent," says Mr Strand. "They can easily adapt their behaviour."

Oh, how I hate my super mieces to pieces.

Some of your comments so far:

I did have a horrible mice problem in my villa in a new district of Greater Cairo. These mice obviously came from the surrounding desert and they were very smart indeed. They managed to eat the cheese from the traps without being caught. Finally, I got rid of them by using non-toxic glue on boards with some food on them. Was it a humane method? I do not think so, but it worked very well!
Amr Gohar (Dr), Cairo, Egypt

My mouse (mice?) definitely deserve Mensa status. For the last month, three different traps and four bait trays have been untouched. Currently it is showing a preference for string and plastic bags. I have decided to get a cat.
Ruth Corcoran, London, UK

We live in Leeds, in a huge victorian house infested with the little b****rs. The last occupants used to catch them in humane traps, and release them just round the corner. These new mice seem to know where the pub is, how to get back in from anywhere, and I swear I heard one unscrewing something the other night.
Chris Tebb, England

You just can't beat the good old-fashioned 'Little Nipper' mousetrap, baited with a bit of beef dripping. The mice don't get the chance to adapt and learn how to avoid getting their necks snapped!
Antony, UK

I almost never have a mouse problem if I have a cat. Only one of my cats was too lazy to deter mice.
Heather Blair, USA

We have managed to catch nine mice in the last couple of weeks using a plastic trap and a blob of strawberry jam.
Joan Morrison, Scotland

Just get nice, large cat or a couple of voracious cats. Mine are excellent mousers, who have never let me down. It gives them a treat and exercise as well.
L. Tremain-Forbes, United States

I got rid of a mouse on Saturday night (oh, what a fun Saturday night it was!) using an "advanced" humane mouse trap. It was a plastic tunnel where the door closed once the mouse was inside. I caught it within two hours of putting it down. No sign of its return yet!
Andrea Neil, UK

At my home in Nevada, we use cashews, tied with thread to the mouse trap. Works every time!
Randy Carlson, USA

Purchase feline (1), mice catching for the use of. Mother Nature knows best.
Tim Naylor, UK

I found evidence of a mouse in my kitchen and set a trap with dog food on it. Within 15 minutes I heard the trap snap and I was rid of the mouse which my cat had let loose in my house.
Christian Armstrong, US and UK

Got woken up on Thursday night by a mouse tucking into a bar of chocolate. Went to discover that said mouse and its cohorts had eaten their way through a box of them under my stairs. Two spring-loaded mouse traps and five mice later (and its only Monday) I think this could become a war of attrition.
Alastair Ross, UK

I may have already been an unwitting victim of a "super" mouse. First I tried the snap trap coated with peanut butter. For three evenings in a row I replinished the peanut butter while our little pest gorged him in relative safety. The snap trap had been set at a hairs trigger and went off multiple times while placing it in the cupboard, yet in the morning the peanut butter was gone completely, the mouse had even licked the bait holder clean.

Next to try was a "live" trap, one of those where the mouse goes into the tunnel but can't get back out. The bait was never touched and I got the feeling that the mouse knew exactly what the trap was and avoided it. The score currently stands at mouse 2, man 0.
Paul Sutton,UK

Have you got a problem with a "super" mouse in your house? Or do you have a foolproof method for disposing of them? Add your comments by using the form below.

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03 May 01 | UK
Tackling a bug's life
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