Mice Down Under

It is interesting how ambivalent we are about the house mouse. It remains one of our most enduring cartoon characters from Mickey, through Jerry with Mighty Mouse trailing in third place. This isn’t meant to imply that Mickey is much more famous than Jerry, but he is older at 85, although he doesn’t get out much on our HD TVs these days because of his venerability.

On the other hand, if one appears in our house, we rush to attack it with mechanical, chemical or biological forms of Weapons of Mouse Destruction. 

In spite of our efforts Mus musculus domesticus is not only still around, but has gone wherever we’ve gone. Next to us, it is probably the most invasive mammal on the planet. Perhaps here we should note that our evolutionary trees had a common point of origin, even though it was a long time ago.

Our common journey has been a big problem in some parts of the world. Australia grows a lot of cereals in the southeastern region and periodic breeding booms of our little mouse friend produces big problems for the farmers (1).

The international team of Searle et al made a study of the mitochondrial DNA of mice from all over Australia and compared it to that of mice from elsewhere (2). The evidence is in. They came from southern England and the northwestern part of the British Isles.

A large number of convict ships sailed from southern England and Ireland in the early days of the colonization of Australia, so it appears that it wasn't only convicts who were transported for life. Large numbers of mice shared the same fate.

Of course, cats followed and the feral cat population is now also a problem, but not to farmers, rather to the native small marsupial population. Our Aussie mates will also point out that we made rather a mess with rabbits and dogs back then too.

  1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2664.2007.01296.x/full
  2. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028622

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