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Eeek, a mouse Mice like to come indoors this time of year, but your best bet is to keep them out if you can

Meet Mus. Short for Mus musculus. Or perhaps you have already had an introduction. Mus musculus is the scientific name for the house mouse, sometimes referred to as "little thief."

The critter -- slender and usually light gray with large ears, small eyes and pointed nose -- is just one of the visitors Western New Yorkers may encounter in the home. Its tail can be as long as its body -- up to 4 inches.

Deer mice, to compare, are small, tan or brown on top with white feet and underbellies. As the pest pros at Orkin point out: There are several species of mice that can be found in the United States.

This time of year, mice are hungry. They are being hunted by outdoor predators. And they are cold. Your place is looking pretty good to them.

Did we mention that a mouse needs only a quarter-inch opening to be able to enter a home or building?

Those who have had mice in the house know the score: They often hear them before they see them. They find their droppings. They may notice a mysterious "stash" of food somewhere. Or, they may notice that food is missing from the pantry or countertop.

Unfortunately, they may also smell the foul odor of a mouse that has died in their walls.

There are do-it-yourself solutions including a large variety of traps -- live catch (for releasing outdoors); electronic, and snap to name a few. Victor is one popular brand (visit victorpest.com for tips on trap types, placement, safety concerns, etc.)

But bigger problems with mice, which can spread disease, may require professional intervention. In fact, roughly 75 percent of the calls Orkin's Buffalo branch currently receives are mice-related.

Cheryl Roeder, of Grand Island, has encountered mice. One time, a mouse shared the place they rented for a vacation.

Stranger, still, is the mouse that took up temporary residence under the hood of her car which was parked in the garage -- near the supply of bird food.

How she knew this? "One time I pulled out and stopped for the mail and noticed bird seed on the driveway," she said.

Then she noticed more bird seed under her car. The mouse, as it turned out, was making nests under the hood. It not only used bird seed but other materials as well.

They got rid of the mouse by eliminating its food source -- the bird seed -- and cleaning out the car. But Roeder worries what would have happened had the critter gnawed through the wires (a serious situation with electrical wires in the home as well; chewed wires can be a fire hazard.)

She also wonders, with a shudder, what would have happened had the mouse entered her car while she was driving.

More recently, her daughter and son-in-law had mice in the attic of their new home. They eliminated them with traditional snap traps.

"The mice were able to climb up the brick exterior and get into the attic," she said. "They're like little rock-climbers."

A local Orkin spokesman noted these trends for Western New York:

Mice often enter homes through air-conditioning units that open to the outside and have not been properly sealed, as well as garage doors that have not been properly sealed.

Mice most often are found in the basement, although it is not uncommon to find them in the attic as well.

Older homes especially must be monitored closely for openings and unsealed crevices through which mice can enter.

And there are myths as well.

If you only see one mouse, that does not mean there is only one in your home, for example. Mice reproduce fairly rapidly, with a reproduction cycle of about 30 to 45 days.

Furthermore, according to Orkin, the biggest misconception from customers is not understanding that mice can and will enter your home through entry points the size of a dime.

Prevention is your best bet -- before a problem occurs.

The Humane Society of the United States suggests removing food sources for mice, such as the Roeders did on Grand Island. Exclusion strategies and habitat management also are key to what it calls "prevention before lethal control."

According to its Web site, hsus.org: "Lethal control is never justifiable without a dedicated effort to apply other controls first and prevent the recurrence of problems."

Furthermore: "The HSUS condemns the use of poisons (rodenticides) and glue board traps to kill mice and other rodents. Both of these methods are far less humane than either standard snap traps or those traps that use electricity to kill these animals. In considering the arsenal of lethal methods available for rodent control, the bottom line is that none is completely humane in their modes of action, but some inflict less suffering than others."

A few other tips from Orkin:

* Regularly inspect home exterior and interior for droppings, rub marks, burrows, etc. Seal all cracks larger than 1/4 of an inch; install weather strips at the bottom of exterior doors.

* Trim branches, plants and bushes hanging over the home.

* Keep home interior clean. Store food, including pet food, and garbage in sealed containers. Don't leave dishes in the sink or pet food out overnight.

e-mail: smartin@buffews.com

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