Are Mice Smart?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: August 12, 2022
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We know that mice are crafty little critters. They’re capable of sneaking into homes and hiding in places out of the way while making nests in areas most people wouldn’t think to look. So, are mice smart?

That’s a fair question to ask, and it requires a fairly deep look at the creatures in question to answer. Today, we’ll see what we can discover about the intelligence of mice and whether we underestimate these rodents.  

Are Mice Smart?

Ural owl with a hunted mouse in beak sitting on a tree stump. Oral owls are adept hunters.
Mice are smart, but that doesn’t mean they can avoid every danger.

©iStock.com/sduben

Yes, mice are very smart rodents, and that makes it difficult for humans to detect and get rid of them. However, their intelligence makes them helpful for understanding biological functions such as learning and memory.  

When we consider a mouse’s intelligence, we can’t just give them an IQ test and hope to find out how smart they are. Instead, we have to look at various facets of their behavior and biology to determine the level of intelligence possessed by mice.

Biology

Despite being small mammals, mice have a brain-to-body mass ratio that is the same as humans. Both creatures have a ratio of 1:40.

While this data should not be interpreted to mean that mice have human-like intelligence, the ratio of brain to body mass suggests a positive correlation to intelligence in the form of problem-solving abilities.

Also, similarities between human brains and mouse brains allow the latter to be useful as a model for human brains in research where they are not available. Mice are widely used to test pharmaceutical products that will later be used on humans. Of course, human and mouse brains have as many dissimilarities to them as they do have similarities.

Learning

Mice learn how to get into people’s houses with ease.

©ChristinLola/Shutterstock.com

Mice have a good memory, and that helps them learn and repeat certain tasks. They have been taught to do a number of tricks such as completing agility courses, standing up and begging for food, and even responding to a given name.

Yet, as smart as mice are with memorization, they are not too smart that they won’t be stumped if something interrupts their habit. For example, mice will often take a certain path when moving around a home. They don’t necessarily pay attention once they have mastered that path.

A mouse might follow a path that it has gone around many times before and still get caught in a trap. On one hand, the mouse was smart enough to learn the path. On the other hand, it was not smart enough to learn to avoid the dangers.

These sorts of paradoxes are common when trying to ascertain the intelligence of mice.  

Communication

Another form of intelligence that mice demonstrate can be found in their forms of communication. Mice use squeaks to “talk” to each other and communicate a variety of things.

For example, mice have certain squeaks that tell other nearby mice when they have found food or when a predator is lurking about. Although many people realize they have a mouse infestation when they hear mice squeaking in their homes, the interesting thing is that humans can’t hear a lot of a mouse’s chatter.

Much of what a mouse has to say is done in ultrasonic squeaks, so we can’t understand them. They use these noises as part of their mating call and to fight with others.

Interestingly, mice are smart enough to recognize members of their community based on their looks. They can even make facial expressions that may potentially show how they feel to other mice.

The most important takeaway here is that mice do have a somewhat complex form of communication, further showing that they are intelligent beings.  

Social Inclinations

Baby pet Mouse - Baby Mice
Mice develop a social order where the strongest male mice are at the top.

©RICHARD-ASQUITH/Shutterstock.com

Another sign of intelligence in mice is easily found in their social interactions. Mice don’t always live together, but they will share their nests with their young. Many adult mice can build nests close to one another. When many adult mice live in an area, they establish a social hierarchy that helps them maintain order and quell fights.

For the most part, there are leader male mice that are in charge of these social hierarchies. They are the ones that can use aggression to end disagreements and are first in line when it comes to feeding. They’re also the ones that tend to engage in cannibalism when there are too many mouths to feed and not enough food.

Mice have rather straightforward social inclinations, but they do show that the animals are smart.  

Cleanliness

Mice are very clean animals despite their propensity for leaving droppings and urine throughout the homes they inhabit. These animals manage to clean and groom themselves several times throughout the day.

Mice apparently spend large amounts of their waking hours grooming themselves to stay clean. That comes after spending a lot of their day wallowing in rather dirty areas. This certainly demonstrates intelligence, and it also proves to be ironic since mice leave behind a heaping mess when they infest an area.

Are Mice Smart Enough to Avoid Traps?

Humane mouse traps
Mice are certainly not smart enough to avoid traps, and that helps humans.

©lortek/Shutterstock.com

Mice are not smart enough to avoid all traps. That’s why many pest control specialists insist that you place traps along the baseboards of areas where they travel and in places where they frequently live.

Mice are creatures of habit that do not like to differentiate their routes around your home. So, if they run along the same baseboards every day, they won’t notice that you put down a glue trap until it’s too late.

Also, mice do not understand the workings of a snap trap. Sometimes they eat a little bit of the food that is being used as bait and then back off, but it’s probably not because they know it’s too good to be true. Otherwise, these traps would not be nearly as effective as they are.  

So, when we ask, are mice smart? The answer is yes. They are intelligent creatures, and that is a double-edged sword for humans. Sometimes, their intelligence helps us understand concepts in science. Other times it makes them clever adversaries when we want to remove them from our homes. While they might not be the smartest animals alive, mice are still intelligent in certain respects.


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White-footed Mouse
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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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