Fecund: ‘fertile or capable of producing many offspring’ says the dictionary.
Most folks know of the rate that rabbits, rats and mice can breed. Rats can easily have 50 young per year, with their offspring breeding at an alarmingly young age. House mice are pretty much the same. Rabbits, despite their reputation, are slightly less prolific, having maybe up to 30 offspring in a season, and long-tailed field mice less productive still, with maybe only 14 offspring annually. Nevertheless 14 is a pretty high number, and more than enough to replace those taken by weasels, stoats, rats, kestrels and buzzards.
On late afternoon on Friday, when my wife was about to feed our dog, Marci, she discovered that a bag of oatmeal, used to give roughage in some of Marci’s meals and kept in a cupboard juxtaposed to the sink, had some fluff in it. She called me over to see. There was a fair handful of dark-coloured fluff, and while we were discussing taking the bag back to the shop, she noticed that there was hole in the bag. We were not sure if the bag came with its consignment of fluff but it certainly didn’t come with a hole in it.
I immediately thought a mouse was the culprit, and this was confirmed when the origin of the fluff was discovered. In the wicker basket that contained all things to do with dog food was a furry winter coat that belonged to an earlier canine companion. Or what was left of it. A mouse was definitely the muncher, and I disappeared to the shed to get a mouse trap.
The trap was duly baited with a peanut and placed beside the wicker basket, by now emptied of all perishables. And mouse nest material. Within half an hour I heard the sharp ‘crack’ of the trap being sprung, and looked into the cupboard. One very dead long-tailed field mouse was in the trap. I removed the mouse and left it on the steps at the back door. I’d a notion to leave it somewhere in the wood where a tawny owl might benefit, but my mind came back to mice. Knowing how fecund they are I’d an idea that it would have a mate, so set the trap again, economising on peanuts by re-using the same one as had already fatally lured a victim.
Within an hour I had another field mouse, and another, and another, and another, probably all of them its brothers, sisters, sons or daughters. Five fecund mice! That was not the end: I’ve caught a further two since that – seven fecund mice! Thankfully the trap has lain empty for more than 12 hours now so that family – or extended family – might be just about rounded up. My job tomorrow is to try to establish how they are getting in to the house before the next batch appears.
I’ve caught many mice in the shed before; in fact in October 2011 I probably caught a record 30 or so. This is only the second time they’ve ventured into the kitchen and I hope it’s the last. They’re lovely wee beasties, with their shiny coats, black button eyes, large ears and long tails, but their place is not in a kitchen among food. Even dog food. I regularly see their mouse holes in the wood, with the tiny mound of earth they’ve scraped out looking as if it has been through a sieve. I see them from time to time under the bird feeders, picking up the few scraps of nuts and seeds the birds have missed. They’re more than welcome to those, but they should know their place. The field mice can practice their fecundity as much as they like, as long as it is in the field.