Deer Mouse

Last updated: July 15, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© jitkagold/Shutterstock.com

Roughly 60 different species of deer mice range from Canada to Central America!


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Deer Mouse Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Rodentia
Family
Cricetidae
Genus
Peromyscus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Deer Mouse Conservation Status


Deer Mouse Facts

Prey
Insects, larvae, and other invertebrates
Main Prey
Insects
Name Of Young
Pups
Group Behavior
  • Mainly solitary
  • Solitary except during mating season
Fun Fact
Roughly 60 different species of deer mice range from Canada to Central America!
Estimated Population Size
Varies by species; mostly unknown
Biggest Threat
Predators and disease
Most Distinctive Feature
Light colored or white underside and dark upper body
Distinctive Feature
Larde eyes; rounded ears; soft fur; light colored feet
Other Name(s)
deer mouse, deermouse
Gestation Period
21 to 37 days
Temperament
Mostly docile, but can be fiercely aggressive when raising young
Age Of Independence
25 to 35 days
Litter Size
on average, about 4 to 5
Habitat
Forests, grasslands, shrublands, deserts, islands, mountains, and both icy cold and tropical forests. They thrive in areas with good cover, like bushes, long grasses, and forest undergrowth
Predators
Owls, hawks, snakes, foxes, weasels, coyotes, feral cats, etc.
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
  • Nocturnal/Crepuscular
Favorite Food
Seeds, fruits, nuts, insects, etc.
Common Name
Deer mouse
Number Of Species
60
Location
North America, Central America
Nesting Location
Often in trees or other high places, under logs or rocks, in abandoned dens or nests

Deer Mouse Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Yellow
  • White
  • Tan
  • Dark Brown
  • Orange
  • White-Brown
  • Black-Brown
Skin Type
Fur
Lifespan
About 1 year in the wild; up to 8 years in captivity
Weight
0.5 to 1.5 ounces
Length
About 5 to 11 inches, including the tail, with variability depending on the species
Age of Sexual Maturity
35 to 60 days
Age of Weaning
21 to 28 days
Venomous
No
Aggression
Medium

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Roughly 60 different species of deer mice range from Canada to Central America!

Deer mice are quite common throughout North America and Central America. They look very similar to the common house mouse, but instead of being uniformly colored, deer mice usually have white or light-colored undersides and light colored or naked feet. They belong to the genus Peromyscus of the Cricetidae family of rodents. With their large eyes, round ears, and soft fur, these little mice are undoubtedly cute. But they are also the primary carriers of the deadly Hantavirus, a pathogen that has a 38 percent death rate in humans. Experts do not consider most deer mice as rare, thanks in part to their large ranges. But the IUCN lists several species as either endangered or critically endangered, and some have gone extinct in the last century.  

Incredible Deer Mouse Facts

  • Experts recently split the North American deer mouse into two separate species, the Eastern deer mouse and the Western deer mouse.
  • The genus Peromyscus contains the known deer mice.
  • Common names of these species sometimes substitute deermouse for deer mouse.
  • Some members of the Peromyscus genus are just called mouse, but they are still deer mice.
  • Many deer mice are arboreal species that nest in trees or other high places.
  • Deer mice live in a wide variety of habitats, from icy cold forests to warm and rainy forests, and from high in the mountains to arid deserts and tiny islands.

Where to Find Deer Mice

Deer mice range over most of North America and Central America. The majority of known species live in Mexico, either exclusively or in part. Several of the Peromyscus species are endemic to small areas such as tiny islands or narrow bands nestled in the mountains of Mexico. Some of these have stable populations, but they are quite vulnerable due to their limited range. Wider ranging deer mouse species thrive in a variety of different habitats, including forests, grasslands, shrublands, deserts, mountains, and both icy cold and tropical forests. They thrive in areas with good cover, like bushes, long grasses, and forest undergrowth.

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Deer Mouse Nests

Deer mice make messy, cup-shaped nests, often in elevated locations. They use all sorts of materials, from the hair, fur, and feathers of other animals to bits of soft plant fibers. Different species of deer mice may utilize different nesting locations, depending on what is available in their habitat. Species that live in forested areas prefer to nest in elevated cavities in trees. Deer mice that live in desert biomes may choose to nest under rocks or in crevices. Logs, thickets and even abandoned bird nests or dens of other small animals make good nesting locations.

Because deer mice typically live solitary lives outside of their mating seasons, nests often contain only one or two adults. However, in cold climates researchers have observed up to 15 deer mice huddled together in single nests to stay warm.

Scientific Names

Mammologists currently recognize roughly 60 different deer mouse species, all under the genus Peromyscus. The word “Peromyscus” derives from Greek roots, most likely meaning booted mouse. These mice do often have lighter colored feet, which give them the appearance of wearing gloves or boots. Although many of the species in this genus have common names that include the words deer mouse or deermouse, some do not. Most have common or scientific names that reflect the individuals who categorized them, the locations where they were found, or physical characteristics that make them stand out.



Thanks to recent advancements that allow scientists to evaluate species and subspecies at a molecular level, this genus, like many others, is currently in flux. As recently as 2022, researchers used mitochondrial data along with other factors to review the taxa of this genus. They suggested that three previously named subspecies should be reassigned as independent species, including Peromyscus collinus (1952), Peromyscus amplus (1904), and Peromyscus felipensis (1898). Additional rearrangement of the taxa could follow, especially within the less common subspecies for which few specimens have been found.

One of the most recently recognized species is the the Western deer mouse. Experts separated it from the Eastern deer mouse in 2019 based on genetic evidence. They had previously classified the two species together as the North American deer mouse, Peromyscus maniculatus. Researchers renamed the Western deer mouse into a different species, Peromyscus sonoriensis. These, along with the white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus, make up the most common deer mouse species in North America. Together, their range covers much of Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Appearance

Deer mice are cute little creatures with short, soft, velvety fur. They have big, round ears and large eyes. Their nose is pointed, and their tail is usually long, with fur on the top side. They have feet with clawed toes that can easily grip surfaces. Deer mice are usually easy to distinguish from the common house mouse, Mus musculus. Deer mice typically have darker backs and white or light-colored undersides. Mus musculus individuals generally have smaller eyes than deer mice, and they have the same color fur all over.

Deer mice range in size from smaller than 5 inches to more than 11 inches in length, tails included. The California deermouse, also known as the California mouse, is among the largest of the species. Its body measures around 5 inches in length from nose to rump, and its tail is usually longer than that. It can weigh up to 1.5 ounces.

The Mexican deer mouse is medium sized, with a length between about 7 to 10 inches including the tail. Eastern deer mice are among the smaller species, averaging only around 7 inches in length, including their tails. The smallest known member of the Peromyscus genus, the Oldfield mouse, or Oldfield deermouse, measures only 4.8 to 6 inches in length and weighs roughly 0.5 ounces.

Side view of a deer mouse on a white background.

The deer mouse has a light colored underside, unlike the common house mouse.

©Close Encounters Photo/Shutterstock.com

Behavior

Deer mice are generally nocturnal, sometimes crepuscular. In the right conditions they might even come out in the middle of the day to forage. However, they most often sleep through the daylight hours in their nests or other hiding places where they feel safe.

These mice are exceptionally good at climbing. They run fast and jump easily, and they can even swim. Observers describe deer mice as more agile than house mice.

Although deer mice live mostly solitary lives, except when mating, they do have several methods of communicating with one another. They can use chemical scents, particularly for marking their territories. Sometimes they engage in posturing and grooming one another. They also use a wide variety of vocalizations to communicate with members of their own species and others. An agitated deer mouse may stomp its front feet, much like a skunk, and drum its tail on the ground to drive away an intruder.

Dozens of deer mice of the same species may inhabit the same small area, each with their own nest. Two or more different species of deer mice also often overlap in their range. These mice sometimes have a live and let live attitude, but females can be extremely aggressive when raising young.

Diet

Deer mice eat just about any type of food they can. These omnivorous creatures have strong teeth and jaws, perfect for gnawing. They can open hard seeds with ease and even the toughest beetles pose no problems. They love to munch on insects, larvae, worms, snails, and other invertebrates. These industrious mice also load up on seeds, fruits, nuts, and even fungus. These rodents eat all they can as cold weather approaches, and they store seeds to eat through the winter. Their very survival depends on putting away enough food to last, especially if they live in cold climates.

Reproduction

Most deer mice are polygynous. This means that the males mate with multiple females. Some species are both polygynous and polyandrous, meaning the females mate with multiple males, too. In a rare exception, the Oldfield mouse, Peromyscus polionotus, is monogamous, although pairs do not always mate for life. Each female has a single male mate, at least for a season, and that male stays with the female to help raise their offspring.

Males of various other species also sometimes nest with one or more females and help care for the young, especially in the winter. Usually, though, male deer mice of other species abdicate any child rearing responsibilities. Researchers in 2017 found multiple genetic factors that influenced parental behavior in male Oldfield mice.

Deer mice reach sexual maturity quickly, typically between 35 and 60 days. They mate frequently and gestation takes as little as three to five weeks. Females can become pregnant within days after giving birth, meaning they can produce multiple litters per year. In the wild, most varieties have about three to five litters per year. They mate most often from the early spring through the fall, though species in warm climates may keep reproducing right through the winter. In captivity, where external factors such as temperature and food availability are controlled, they can have many more litters. The offspring are born hairless and helpless, but they mature quickly. They leave the nest and are fully independent between three to five weeks of age.  

Predators & Threats

Deer mice are vulnerable to a host of different predators including birds, reptiles, and mammals. Birds of prey such as hawks and owls frequently catch and eat them, or feed them to their young. Snakes also prey on these mice, especially in their nests. Mammalian predators such as foxes, weasels, coyotes, and feral cats also make easy prey of deer mice.

Disease also poses a threat to deer mice and those who come into contact with them. Deer mice are the primary reservoir for Hantavirus. People do not often become infected with this disease, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hantavirus has a 38 percent mortality rate. These rodents are also known carriers of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Deer Mouse Lifespan

Deer mice live considerably longer in captivity than they do in the wild. It is not unusual for an individual to live five or even eight years or more in captivity. In the wild, however, most live only around one year. Predators have a large impact on their populations, but starvation, especially in cold climates, is perhaps a greater threat.

Conservation

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists most of the known Peromyscus varieties as species of least concern. That means their populations are well established and cover sufficient range that, even if their numbers are declining, interventions are not needed at this time. Unfortunately, however, many species are in trouble, and some have gone extinct. Pemberton’s deer mouse was last seen in 1931, and is listed as extinct, while the Angel Island mouse was last seen in 1991, and though it is still listed as critically endangered, it is likely to be extinct as well.

The IUCN lists nine other Peromyscus species as critically endangered. Six species are listed as endangered, and another two are listed as vulnerable. Most of these species occupy only a very small range. Some are endemic to single islands. Others live in small enclaves in the mountains of Mexico. For each of the critically endangered species, survival may depend on preserving their habitat and controlling introduced species such as feral cats.

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About the Author

Tavia Fuller Armstrong is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on birds, mammals, reptiles, and chemistry. Tavia has been researching and writing about animals for approximately 30 years, since she completed an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tavia holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with a wildlife emphasis from the University of Central Oklahoma. A resident of Oklahoma, Tavia has worked at the federal, state, and local level to educate hundreds of young people about science, wildlife, and endangered species.

Deer Mouse FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do deer mice look like?

Deer mice have short, soft, velvety fur. They have big, round ears and large eyes. Their nose is pointed, and their tail is usually long, with fur on the top side. They have feet with clawed toes that can easily grip surfaces. Deer mice are usually easy to distinguish from the common house mouse, Mus musculus. Deer mice typically have darker backs and white or light-colored undersides. Mus musculus individuals generally have smaller eyes than deer mice, and they have the same color fur all over.

How big are deer mice?

Deer mice are small and very light weight. The smallest weighs only about 0.5 ounces, while the largest can weigh around 1.5 ounces. They vary in length from only about 5 inches, including the tail, to more than 11 inches.

Are deer mice fast?

Deer mice are agile creatures and quite fast on their feet. They are also adept at climbing, jumping and even swimming.

How many varieties of deer mice exist?

Roughly 60 different species of deer mice exist. They comprise the Peromyscus genus of the Cricetidae family of rodents. The taxonomy of this genus, like so many others, is currently in flux due to new technologies that allow species and subspecies to be compared at the molecular level. Many changes to the taxa have occurred in the last decade.

What makes deer mice special?

Approximately 60 different species of deer mice range from Canada to Central America!

Where do deer mice live?

Deer mice range over most of North America and Central America. The majority of known species live in Mexico, either exclusively or in part. Some species are endemic to tiny islands or narrow bands nestled in the mountains of Mexico. Wider ranging deer mice live in a variety of different habitats, including forests, grasslands, shrublands, deserts, mountains, and both icy cold and tropical forests. They thrive in areas with good cover, like bushes, long grasses, and forest undergrowth.

Do deer mice migrate?

Deer mice do not migrate. They do disperse from their nest to claim small territories of their own a moderate distance away.

What do deer mice eat?

They love to munch on insects, larvae, worms, snails, and other invertebrates. They also load up on seeds, fruits, nuts, and even fungus. Deer mice eat all they can as cold weather approaches, and they store seeds to eat through the winter. Their very survival depends on putting away enough food to last.

How many offspring are in a deer mouse litter?

Deer mice average about four or five offspring per litter. Depending on the species they may have more or fewer.

When do deer mice leave the nest?

Deer mice are fully independent and leave the nest by the time they are about 3 to 5 weeks of age.

How long do deer mice live?

In the wild, deer mice only live about one year on average. Predators and starvation take a heavy toll on deer mouse populations. In captivity, they can live much longer, up to eight years or more.

Do deer mice spread disease?

Deer mice are the primary reservoir of Hantavirus, which can be spread through their droppings. They also often carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Are deer mice rare?

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists most of the known Peromyscus varieties as species of least concern. That means the majority of deer mice are not considered rare. However, some species are considerably rare. One, and possibly two species have gone extinct in the last century. A total of ten species are currently listed as critically endangered, while another six are endangered and two are listed as vulnerable.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Mammalia/Giovani Hernández-Canchola, et. al., Available here: https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/mammalia-2021-0146/html?lang=en
  2. IUCN Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=Peromyscus&searchType=species
  3. New York Times/Carl Zimmer, Available here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/19/science/parenting-genes-study.html
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Available here: https://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/hps/symptoms.html

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