Nature Watch, with Ron Freethy

THE long-tailed fieldmouse is also known as the wood mouse and its scientific name is Apodemus sylvaticus.

It has been present in Britain since the Ice Ages, unlike the house mouse, which only came to Britain from Asia when the trade routes started to open up.

The wood mouse is found in houses but it is much less distinctive than the house mouse (scientific name Mus musculus).

The wood mouse, again in contrast to the house mouse, does not have an unpleasant smell.

Physically wood mice are distinguished from the house mouse by having larger eyes, larger ears and a much longer tail, which is about the same length as the head and body combined.

Anyone trying to pick up a wood mouse by the tail is in for a nasty shock.

The skin on the tail is loose and is stripped to the bone, and when the wood mouse twists around, it can inflict quite a nasty bite.

Wood mice are mainly nocturnal but in cold winter weather they are also active by day and are often seen feeding on and around bird tables.

One of the most fascinating things about the long-tailed field mouse concerns its method of locomotion.

When it is not being pressed it uses all its limbs. like any other rodent, but when danger threatens, it can lift its rear ones in the manner of a kangaroo to make quite prodigious leaps.

To escape predators it has been observed to make standing jumps of almost a metre.

It is an excellent climber and makes full use of its long tail as an extra limb. I have known of wood mice taking over empty rooks' nests over 20 metres (around 70 feet) from the ground.

On the whole, however, wood mice live in extensive underground burrows which are smaller but often confused with mole runs. These networks last for several years and as wood mice seldom live more than two years, the runs are passed on from one generation to the next.

If these burrows are disturbed the escaping mice leap about and can make a lasting impression on farmers.

The Scots poet Robert Burns was a working farmer and the mouse that he describes in the most famous lines is not a house mouse but a wood mouse.

Many mammals are so secretive in their habits that more and more scientific research is needed to unravel their lifestyle.

The Mammal Society is collating information about wood mice and their appearance in houses.

Anyone wishing to take part in this survey should contact the Mammal Society, 15 Cloisters House, 8 Battersea Park Road, London SW8 4BG.

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