Author’s Note: This post includes two videos, Parts One and Two. If pressed for time, you are encouraged to bookmark the page and come back to finish this comprehensive article.
Mice Infestations: Regaining Control
Here in the Great Northeast (U.S.), it seems to happen at the end of every summer –when it starts to get cold at night and especially when the temps dip below freezing. We can always count on the mice to come in (can’t say that I blame them).
July 2015 UPDATE: To see the most effective and humane traps I’ve had in 40 years, scroll to the bottom and see the Raticator. Over the past three years, in addition to a steady stream of mice in the garage and shed, I got rid of dozens of chipmunks and at least a dozen red squirrels. Neither is shy about entering the Raticator and the results are always the same. Lights out.
The Raticator is available in two models -one runs on 4-AAA batteries, the Raticator MAX on ‘D’ Cells and has an infrared detecting circuit built in. This infrared circuit enables the unit to remain in ‘stand-by’ mode until a rodent waltzes in, thereby preserving battery life.
So, every year in the fall I set out some traps in the garage, in the basement, and out in my shed. This is one of the key items on my seasonal Home Maintenance Checklist because of the detrimental impact if left unchecked.
How to Get Rid of Mice – Part One
The idea, I’ve learned (the hard way), is to nip them in the bud, so to say, and eliminate them before they take over –which is to say,
before it can be termed an infestation. As sure as the sun will rise, a forest will take over a field –in short order, once it isn’t mowed or planted anymore.
Accordingly, if you’re not on top of the mice, they’ll move right in. Within as few as 21 days (the gestation period of a mouse), you’ll have a litter (or litters) of newborn mice somewhere in your dwelling.
And, guess what. They were born there –they’re quite at home and have no incentive to go anywhere as long as food and water are present. They know nothing about the great outdoors.
Someone built our house back in 1968 in a location that was previously only woods and fields. JoAnne says that we live in (meaning our house is located in) their (the rodents’) home –that we are the outsiders.
That may be true but it doesn’t carry much weight with me. They have the woods and fields in which to forage, frolic and raise thousands of offspring. They can do without my garage and my house.
How To Know if Your House is Infested
It’s a matter of degrees, I would say, about whether or not your house (or shed) is infested. In one house we lived in, my son and his girlfriend were watching TV when a mouse ran across the living room carpet. Had they not seen it, I wouldn’t have taken action and the problem would have escalated. Until then, I wasn’t paying attention and the general rodent population expanded to the point they were running around the living room in broad daylight.
Once I realized, I gave the kitchen a close inspection, too. Inside the base cabinets I found evidence of their presence in the form of droppings.
Anyplace there are mice, there are droppings. They poop their way across everywhere they go. Check on the counter tops, on shelving or in cabinets where dry food is stored.
If there are mice around, you’ll find droppings –which look similar to grains of rice but dark in color. If there are no droppings around the kitchen, chances are pretty good there are no mice around.
That doesn’t mean there are none in your basement or attic, or attached garage. If they are in any of those places they will soon be in your kitchen if not controlled.
Getting back to the mouse running around our living room -I set some old fashioned traps up in the attic and in the basement and guess where I caught the most? In the attic, I got rid of 14 or 15 mice over a period of about three weeks.
Another place the mice are a challenge is in a backyard shed or garage where you store your yard and garden equipment –like the mower, snow thrower, or a rototiller. The mice like to crawl up inside / behind the engine cowling and build nests in there. When they do, it’s difficult to clear all the material out without removing some parts. They use anything they can find to build a nest –paper, rags, and grassy material.
If not cleared out the (air cooled) engines have a tendency to overheat. And, if you fire one of those machines up and there happens to be a mouse in there it won’t smell very good. The mice have been known to crawl up inside an engine and chew the ignition wires too. I’ve seen it and it caused the snow thrower not to run until it was repaired.
For these reasons it is a good idea to have a handle on the rodent population in the shed or garage.
How to Get Rid of House Mice in Walls
It is important to understand that you usually won’t see or otherwise notice one or two mice. By the time you see one run across the room -they have already been there awhile, have been fruitful and have been multiplying. Generally speaking, mice come inside seeking shelter –but, also food. If they find it, they hang around. If not they keep on looking –even if it means going back outside.
In the above attic scenario, there was no food or water. They needed to go in and out every day. To the field mice, my attic with all the fiberglass insulation was a cozy nesting site. I didn’t have to look too closely to see the tunnels through the insulation.
If the house mice are in your walls, you’ll hear them at night. The way to get rid of mice in walls is pretty easy. Trap them when they are outside of the walls. They are not living in there. The wall cavity is just a raceway –a thoroughfare to get them from the basement to the attic, or vice versa. Mice seem to want to explore every avenue in their quest for finding food.
They wander down any alley just to see where it goes. Once they find a way into your house or apartment, they’ll fan out and go everywhere. And, they don’t find it much of a challenge to get in. They can squeeze through a crack no larger than ¼ inch.
They don’t stay in the wall. They come out in the basement and in the attic to find food and water. That’s where you can trap them –sniffing around for a meal.
Once you limit their numbers, you won’t hear anything in the walls. The trick is to trap all that are present and to maintain control by keeping a few strategically located traps out to catch the occasional straggler that might wander in. If you do that, they won’t have a chance to start breeding in your home or apartment. Evidence of your success will be in their scarcity.
Authors Note: In the (Part Two) video below, I made mention that there are “literally thousands of mice within 500 ft of your house.” Some would say I may have a flair for exaggeration by that remark, if they’re feeling somewhat benevolent. Others might not be so kind. Suffice it to say that the critters are everywhere. A more reasonable number might be hundreds if you live adjacent to a field or woods. Less if you’re in an urban setting.
How-To: Mice Infestations Part Two; Easiest Way to Get Rid of Mice
House Mouse Deterrents
Peppermint Oil and Mice
I’ve heard some strange rumblings about people using peppermint oil to deter mice in their homes and apartments. Whether peppermint oil is useful to keep Topo Gigio (at right) out of your Cocoa Puffs is not the question. Believe me -you can’t afford enough peppermint oil to place in all the locations it would be needed, on a consistent and continual basis to keep the rodent population at bay.
I can see it now. He can’t get at the Cocoa Puffs so he passes them by and migrates to a different shelf where that box of capellini is giving off the most captivating aroma.
Red Fox Urine As a Deterrent
Available commercially, this stuff is no “Channel No. 5. And, it’s not cheap. I think it works in deterring rodents –to a degree. I used it to deter mice in my shed and to deter chipmunks from coming around the house. As they never really go away, I decided it wasn’t worth the money or effort –or putting up with the smell.
I found a study (there’s more than one on the Internet) about the “Effects of red fox urine on foraging behavior in forest and residential populations of nocturnal rodents.” Take a look and see if it’s something worth trying.
The Lifecycle of the Field Mouse
Once you know the lifecycle of the house mouse, it is easy to see why they need to be kept under control. Rodent control should be part of your ongoing Home Maintenance routine for all seasons.
The gestation period for a mouse is 21 days. Within a few days, a breeding female is ready to conceive again. They are ‘in heat’ every few days all year round. A young mouse is able to breed in just 4 -8 weeks. The average litter is between 9 – 12 pups.
In their natural environment, field mice are like Snickers Bars to the predatory mammals and birds they live among. Mice are a staple for the owls, hawks, foxes, weasels and coyotes –to name a few. They are easy pickings until snow cover provides a shield. When the snow melts, all bets are off. I watched a hawk last spring perched in the backyard observing the activity on the lawn. I wasn’t long before it swooped down to claim the prize (Snickers Bar).
It’s easy to see why, if left unchecked, a house mouse population could explode in a short time to levels where the ‘infestation’ word creeps into the conversation. If a house is vacant for a season, it’s not difficult to imagine a few mice finding their way in. There will likely be quite a few mice calling your house a home by seasons end.
The Best Way To Get Rid of Mice
The best way I know of to get rid of house mice in your home or apartment is to put out mouse traps in several locations. The mice you capture and combined with disappearance of the bait will tip you off as to where in the house most of the mice are. Mice are very agile. They can lick the peanut butter clean off a trap without triggering it. You will experience stolen bait.
The old fashioned traps are still the best, if you plan on using traps. I used them for many years until recently when I bought an electronic mouse trap.
Humane Mouse Traps
I was, for a time, on a ‘humane’ campaign to get rid of mice and chipmunks. The problem with those traps is they are not very effective. Hav-a-Hart live traps are available and are pretty effective in catching a mouse. The challenge then is –what do you do with it? Take it for a ride? There’s a few thousand more where that one came from. Do you have that much gas? And, time on your hands?
Because of the magnitude of the challenge, I opted for the old fashioned mousetraps that kill the victim. They are easy to get rid of and I can have the trap reset in minutes.
I rationalize my killing them by feeding them back to the scavengers in the neighborhood –the crows, the opossums, foxes, skunks, etc. I take the dead mouse and place him in outside –always in the same spot. Sometimes, it will disappear the same night. Sometimes it takes two or three nights. It always disappears.
Some kind of critter (maybe more than one) is visiting on a regular basis to see if I’ve left out any dead rodent treats (Snickers Bars). Sometimes there will be two or three dead mice out there when he comes by – or, a mouse and a chipmunk. On those nights, if I could see him, I imagine I’d see his “I can’t believe my good fortune smile.”
The mice go to good use and I don’t mind killing them. I’m just one more in a long line of predators the mice spend their life hiding from.
Mouse Killing Strategies
If using old fashioned (traditional) mouse traps, I’ve found that two traps placed head to head has a higher success rate than one trap. As stated earlier, mice are agile enough to lick the bait off the trigger. If two traps are set together, it limits their movement around the trap and they find themselves having to step on one of them and often trip the trap they’re not feeding from.
Another idea I’ve heard and tried with limited success is to take sewing thread after baiting with peanut butter and wrapping the thread around the peanut butter. In theory, it’s tougher to get all the bait when the thread is in the way. I have caught some mice that way. However, I’ve seen all the peanut butter disappear with nothing left but the clean thread –with no mouse. I don’t do that anymore.
Regarding Rodent Poisons
Mouse poisons like D-Con are made for residential use. There are other poison baits available, more for commercial use. They take the form of solid ‘blocks’ or pellets that the rodent nibbles at. Some of these baits claim to provide a lethal dose in one feeding. They don’t just keel over within the hour but languish for a couple of days.
They gobble the stuff up and then die. The bad part about that is you have no control over where they die. If it takes a couple of days for them to die, they might be inside a wall or behind something where you can’t get at it -where it may smell rather foul for a while. I have seen them dead under the hood of my riding lawn tractor.
Another downside to this method is if you have pets. They might chew up a poisoned mouse they find laying around and get sick too. While the rodent is in a sickened condition it is unlikely to be able to escape your (or your neighbors) cat or dog.
Also, a sickened, poisoned mouse outside is easy pickings for the predators, if caught before it dies and for the scavengers who might find it after it croaks –either of which has the unintended result of poisoning the wildlife in the area.
Millions of pounds of these substances are manufactured every year and much of it ends up in the environment. While effective, the downsides render the strategy unacceptable to many, for multiple reasons.
It is inadvisable to use rodent poisons if you have small children around or pets. If you do choose to use rodent poisons, the point cannot be over stated to take the proper safety precautions. Read the manufacturer’s labels and follow instructions. Wear personal protective equipment and discard unused portions as directed.
The Raticator is the Easiest Way to Get Rid of Mice
When I discovered the Raticator electronic mouse trap, I remember thinking that this is the obvious choice for anyone who objects to touching the dead (sometimes bloody) mouse and dealing with the messy trap. Additionally, it is very effective, and in my opinion, humane.
The battery powered Raticator stores a small electrical charge in a capacitor. When a field mouse enters the chamber to get the bait, it steps on a couple of charged metal plates and is killed instantly.
The small charge from the power supply is just enough to stop a rodent’s heart. Lights out.
No longer do you need to handle the bloody dead mouse. These mice look like they are sleeping. All you do is saunter over to the trash can and dump him in there.
As mentioned earlier, I set them out for pick-up by the friendly neighborhood mammalian scavenger.
You can also toss them out by your bird feeder and some crow will likely enjoy it.
Raticator Max or Raticator Plus?
The Raticator Plus unit is a good unit. I’ve had one for a few years and it’s still going strong. It costs a few dollars less and will take care of quite a few unwelcome rodent house guests before needing new batteries.
The newer Max model has a nice feature that attracted my attention. The unit, when turned on (armed) will charge the capacitor then go into standby mode. When a rodent enters, its presence is detected by an infrared motion detector which turns the charging circuit back on.
The unit could sit there for weeks without draining the batteries waiting for something to enter the unit.
This model uses four (4) ‘D’ cells which should be good for 100 kills or about a year of standby power, less in cold weather.
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