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Meadow Jumping Mouse
(Zapus hudsonius Coues)

From: Saunders, D. A. 1988. Adirondack Mammals. State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry. 216pp.

Order: Rodentia

Family: Zapodidae

Description: The meadow jumping mouse has hind legs much longer than the front legs and a tapered tail that is nearly twice as long as the combined length of the head and body. The coarse fur is yellowish brown above, darkest along the middle of the back, paler along the sides, and white to yellowish-brown below. The tail is bicolored, gray above and white below. The dark eyes are relatively small, the whiskers long, and the sparsely-haired, large ears partially hidden by the surrounding fur. Total length is about 215 mm (8.5 in), and the average weight of an adult is 19 g (0.7 oz). The meadow jumping mouse resembles the woodland jumping mouse (Napaeozapus insignis) but is duller in color and the tail is not usually tipped with white.

Range and Habitat: The range is the southern half of Alaska, most of Canada, and the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. excluding much of the South. In the Adirondack Park, the meadow jumping mouse occurs from elevations to 700 m (2300 ft), and occasionally to 1220 m (4000 ft), in grassy shrubby sites such as meadows, fields, forest clearings and edges; the edges of swamps, marshes, and bogs. This species is especially abundant where ground cover is thick. The meadow jumping mouse builds nests of plant fibers 10-15 cm (4-6 in) in diameter, in clumps of grass, within the bases of hollow trees, in and under hollow logs, and underground to depths of 1 m (3 ft).

Food and Feeding Behavior: Seeds, fruits, subterranean fungi (Endogene spp.) and small terrestrial invertebrates are the foods of the meadow jumping mouse. Animal foods predominate in the spring and early summer diets until seeds become available. Jumping mice harvest seeds by either climbing stems or by bending them over to cut ripening heads. They may also section plant stalks to reach seeds. Accumulations of fat reserves rather than food stores provide winter energy reserves.

Activity and Movement: The meadow jumping mouse does not often jump except when startled, and then makes several bounds on the hind limbs traversing less than 1 m (3 ft) with each leap, and changing direction abruptly before remaining motionless. This sudden movement followed by inactivity tends to disorient predators that hunt by sight. Short hops of 2.5-15 cm (1-6 in) are the normal means of travel. The long tail serves as a balance during hopping and bounding. This agile rodent also moves by walking and may climb herbaceous vegetation and the lower branches of shrubs. The meadow jumping mouse can swim, both on the surface and under the water, diving for periods of 30-60 seconds. Most activity takes place at night, but may occur during the day, more so during cloudy, rainy weather. This species hibernates from mid-September to late October, until early to late May. Hibernation sites are usually small earthen chambers dug it a mound of soil or a bank above the water table, and near the surface, e.g., under a log, to about 0.5 m (20 in) depths. Jumping mice plug the chamber's entrance with soil, and hibernate curled up within a nest of dry plant fibers. Many do not survive torpor because of insufficient fat reserves.

Reproduction: The breeding season begins immediately after emergence from hibernation and continues until late summer. Females bear 1-3 litters from May to October. Most litters occur in June and August. The gestation period is about 18 days, and the average litter size is 5 or 6 with extremes of 1-9. The young are born blind, naked, and weigh 0.8 g (0.03 oz). Their eyes open at 21-25 days, and the young nurse until about 28 days. Shortly after weaning, the young disperse. Some young born in May or June may breed during their first summer, but later litters become sexually mature the following spring. The potential life span is at least 2 years.

Predators: The mink, coyote, weasel, foxes, red-tailed hawk, great horned and screech owls, snakes, large frogs, and carnivorous fish are documented predators of this rodent.

Social Behavior:

  • Social system - The meadow jumping mouse is solitary except when mating and raising young. The home ranges of opposite sexes overlap, and the male's is slightly larger than the range of a female. There is some evidence that home ranges of both sexes may shift gradually with time and in response to the availability of food. Home range size varies from 0.04-1.6 ha (0.1-4.0 ac). Local populations change in annual abundance with densities ranging from 7.4-48.3 meadow jumping mice per hectare (3-20 per acre).
  • Communication - Little is know about the behavior regulating social encounters. Adults are relatively quiet but produce soft bird-like sounds, e.g., repetitive "chucks," and "chirps," and in alarm contexts, vibrate their tails to produce a drumming noise. The young give high-pitched squeaking calls when separated from their mother.

Additional References

Brower, J.E., and T.J. Cade. 1966. Ecology and physiology of Napaeozapus insignis (Miller) and other woodland mice. Ecology, 47:46-63.

Quimby, D.C. 1951. The life history and ecology of the jumping mouse, Zapus hudsonius. Ecological Monographs, 21:61-95.

Whitaker, J.O., Jr. 1963. A study of the meadow jumping mouse, Zapus hudsonius (Zimmerman) in central New York. Ecological Monographs, 33:215-254.

Whitaker, J.O., Jr. 1972. Zapus hudsonius. Mammalian Species, 11:1-7.


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