If you have recently come across harvest mice as a possible new pet in the rodent world – join the club.
Harvest mice make great little pets – and they can bring so much joy to their owners with their adorable cuteness, climbing dexterity and the great ways you can set up their habitat…
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Although they are not always easy to locate with breeders, they are out there and finding a breeder with a colony already will be a much better starting point that just grabbing some from a store. You will have plenty of questions in your first few weeks – and your breeder will be someone great to have on tap.
Harvest mice themselves:
These mice are tiny little mammals – one of the smallest rodents in the world – clocking in at around just 5-6 grams when adult. When they are pups – they are even more cute (if that is even possible).
Harvest mice are best housed in colonies depending on the size of habitat – although it isn’t always happy families in there. They are known to have the odd squabble and sometimes quite like their own space.
They are difficult to sex for the non-experienced (apart from the dominant male) however in a small habitat it is very common for only the dominant male and female to mate – and they can be seasonal breeders, so your collection shouldn’t get out of control. In larger, warmer habitats filled with natural grasses however, multiple pairs will breed throughout the year resulting in a very fast increase in your numbers…
Harvest Mice Cages:
Well, this doesn’t exist actually as harvest mice are so small that they can most likely escape from any barred cage – even the ones designed to be really small for fancy mice.
Basically, you will need to house your harvest mice in a tank – preferably one that is taller rather than wider – as harvest mice love to climb. So do look for height so that they can live out a more natural existence.
Exoterra-type tanks are great for this – as they have been designed to hold tiny things too (like live fruit flies as food for exotics) and size-wise overall – nothing can be too big here.
However, as harvest mice are so tiny – big for them doesn’t have to be big for you! Anything bigger than 30cm x 30cm x 60cm (shown set up below) for up to 4 harvest mice is a good starting size.
You can have great fun with the set up inside the tanks too as being native mammals to both the US and Europe – they can have virtually anything in their tanks that you would find out on a walk in the countryside. Displays of tall grasses, thin branches and twigs as well as ropes and ceramic flower pots can all make a really visually-pleasing enclosure. And all perfectly safe.
You will see we have used sand for a base (we use bird sand – but NEVER mineral bird grit as it is toxic). Anything damp or moist like soil or moss as a substrate can make the bedding and natural features of your display to go mouldy – and this includes any food they drop down to the floor too. The drier the better for the mice.
Harvest Mice, as pets, are still classed as exotic mammals due to their low numbers and special habitat requirements – and we would imagine vet care and treatments are very limited.
What do harvest mice eat?
Their diet in the wild is mainly grains and seeds, but they will also eat fruits, berries, flowers, blossoms, hips and haws as well as the odd bug or grub. They even enjoyed seeking out the lichen on some oak leaves we put in?
There are several specific mouse foods out there – but many have extruded pieces (the large coloured biscuits and blobs of hard stuff) and larger seeds etc which are fine for pet mice – but your harvest mice will find difficult to hold in their tiny hands.
Many of these foods are designed for fancy mice (which are much bigger in size) or some for both rats and mice – which are slightly different to our little semi-wild furries. Rats and mice are less grain-based in their eating habits – and much more likely to eat anything they find whereas harvest mice are a lot more picky about what they will eat (although mine went mad for some curly kale the other day?).
Try a food with tiny pieces in it and more seeds like Versele Laga Mouse Nature, or make your own mix of dried grasses, canary and finch mixes as well as millet sprays (both yellow and red – with red being the more popular with ours), berries and native plants fresh from the garden where possible and the odd mealworm or cricket thrown in…
I also buy in several dried flowers, herbs and grasses which they love as well as picking fresh hawthorn twigs – resplendent with fresh leaves from the countryside – as well as hazel and willow twigs, thistle tops, dried sunflower heads, hogweed seeds, sweet chestnuts, blackberries and rose hips.
Do harvest mice bite?
Well, like all rodents – they have the equipment to do so – but so far, all who we have spoken to who are keeping harvest mice as pets have not been bitten. We try not to handle then too often due to their small size and also because so far they are more than willing enough to walk into a jar – however, they are very hand-friendly and often hop on us as we poke around in their enclosure.
If you don’t want to handle them, you can health check, sex and keep them secure in the jar for a short time and everyone’s a winner. Why would you risk squishing, dropping or losing them when you didn’t need to?
Also, many people keep harvest mice to simply watch them – they don’t need hands on cuddles or play time. In their beautifully curated habitats – believe you me – they are great to watch – and you can lose track of time. And watching doesn’t involve any restraining or handling – so no chance of any nips anyway.
Some people have said that harvest mice can get ‘stressed out’ really easily from too much handling or changing their set up too often – but so far, all the harvest mice we have seen are quite chilled around humans. We poke around in the tank every day to check the water and to add in some new foods or plants etc and clear out anything chewed to pieces or no longer fresh. They are so not bothered – apart from very young harvest mice who seem to jump at everything anyway.
Our brood certainly don’t freak out during our daily pokings in the tank, or even when we move around the room (whereas my gerbils scatter at the first signs of anything).
Harvest mice are super chilled in their domain and are happy to approach your hand in their tank. We also know someone who handles hers regularly and there don’t seem to be any obvious signs of stress – they just act totally the same as they would in their tank.
Ours get a bit scatty when we start to move who branches around though – but then who wouldn’t be startled if the staircase suddenly moved – or the bedroom was suddenly in the loft instead?
Do harvest mice make great pets?
Harvest mice are quite an acquired taste – but certainly make great pets.
They need a specialised tank set-up and a food mix that you have to experiment with or create yourself – however, you will have so much fun doing it. It becomes a mini obsession to make it even better (ask my local garden centre).
The bonus is that now ALL store sections are available for browsing – small mammal, bird, reptile, outdoor plants, dried flower displays, wild bird and even home furnishings…
Harvest mice are seemingly very versatile in their colonies and unlike other small animals as pets – they can be moved around between tanks and returned to old friends without too much trouble. They can squabble in their tanks if there aren’t enough separate twigs to perch on at various heights – but we find it is usually the males that do this in a mixed sex enclosure – so keep a high point in all four corners if you can.
There can be serious fights to the death according to information already online – but in general – they live quite contently in a colony as long as there is space and food for all. Too many males are less likely to get on in smaller spaces, but if they are a clan of JUST males – there is no squabbling at all?
They do, as a species, have very high water requirements – as high metabolism runs on water. To digest their food and stay warm and mobile – they need all the water they can get. Also, not only do they drink a lot individually – but because there are many mouths in your family group – they really get through the water.
And it has to be offered in a bowl, not a bottle.
Many people say – and we have found – that harvest mice can’t effectively use the ball-bearing water bottles common for so many other indoor rodents and rabbits. These balls are quite heavy – being made of metal and all – and there are two of them in there. Because tiny harvest mouse tongues don’t have the strength to push both of these balls up the tube over and over and over again for atiny drop of water each time, they end up going without water instead, which makes them ill.
You can offer a bottle AS WELL as a bowl – but unfortunately we know of people who tried the bottle alone for their harvest mice (finding the bowl annoying (for them)) and all their mice died as a result.
Harvest mice work much better with an open water dish – refreshed at least once a day, more often where possible. And we think they can smell fresh water (?) as whenever we put the dish in fresh – more than half of the inhabitants come straight over to drink – even if the bowl wasn’t empty of water before we refilled it.
Great opportunity to watch the little ones together too – we always recommend hanging around after putting anything in you harvest mouse environments…
Currently (2017) we are trialling a Ferplast Sippy alongside a bowl for an experiment – even though they do obviously prefer to drink from the bowl. Water is disappearing from the Sippy, but we am not sure if they are drinking it or just tapping the dongle with their bodies? They then (2018) chewed apart the lid of the Sippy and kept falling in the water? Needless to say, we took it out and gave up.
More experimentation needed…
Enjoy your new little friends…