SciSun: The Toughest ‘Critter west of the Alamo   Leave a comment

In the Old West of the past, when cowboys sat around campfires at night telling stories and legends, one of the famous tales was of Pecos Bill – the roughest, toughest wrangler ever to ride the range. Old Bill was so tough, the stories say, he once caught and tamed a tornado; another legend tells how how dug the Rio Grande river, just so he could get a drink of water. While all that’s really impressive for one guy riding a horse around Texas, it’s not much compared to the Southern grasshopper mouse (Onychomys torridus), an easily-overlooked desert-living mouse who might just be the mightiest little mouse anyone’s ever known.

Little Grass-hoppy here looks adorable and harmless. After all, he’s only about 3 inches long, covered in silky-fine reddish-grey fur with a white belly, has a cute little name, eats plants and and seeds like other mice, and….Oh, not plants and seeds?? Hoppy eats crickets and SCORPIONS and TARANTULAS bigger than itself? Doesn’t this tiny mouse know those are dangerous things to hunt? Well if he does know, he doesn’t care – the Southern Grasshopper Mouse is also known as the Scorpion Mouse (a far more dangerous sounding name), and, you might say, ‘Scorpio’ lives to hunt – or hunts to live, as this species is the only carnivorous – meat eating – type of mouse in North America.

Found only in the southern deserts of the West and Southwest, ‘Scorpio the Hunter’ (oh, he’d like that name) attacks venomous insects and spiders by disarming prey of their defenses: The mouse repeatedly attacks the scorpions tail, where the poisonous stinger is located, until the tail is broken or chewed in half. Using his tiny little forepaws (‘hands’), the mouse grabs desert beetles who can secrete a noxious defense from their abdomen, jams the beetle into the ground, and eats from the head, downwards so the toxic fumes are useless. When attacking something larger than itself, like a tarantula, the mouse continually bites and claws at the creatures’ head until it’s disabled or dead.

“Centipedes make a great appetizer.  Or even a complete meal!”

“Centipedes make a great appetizer. Or even a complete meal!”


If he can’t find any poisonous beetles or scorpions or tarantulas or other deadly creatures to eat, the Southern Grasshopper Mouse has been known to kill and eat other types of more peaceful mice. Finding a safe and comfortable home, usually one of the most important activities for most mice and other animals, means little to ‘Scorpio’ – he just takes over the burrow of his latest meal. And at night, he barks and howls at the moon like a wolf or coyote. This species is so unique, scientists are working to try and learn more about how the mouse can withstand the pain of bites and stings; how it overcomes venom that would kill other small mammals; and generally, how a mouse can be so fearless (Brave as a mouse?). Of course, this is still a little mouse, so he’s not going to attack a human or a dog or cat. Unless of course, one day he’s bitten by a radioactive spider. And we all know what comes from that.

So this little Desert Avenger (oh, that’s another good name) is working hard to keep the population of venomous animals in balance with other desert species and maintain a healthy environment. Some people even tell the story that once the Grasshopper Mountains in northern California and Oregon were plagued with dangerous spiders, scorpions and other critters that was making it impossible for cowboys to herd cattle, or for any other animals to live. So a call was put out for anyone that could rid the mountains of these poisonous pests and make the land safe for all. One day an army of little mice arrived and in short time destroyed virtually all the venomous creatures, today leaving the mountains free of scorpions and tarantulas. But we think that’s just a tall tale told by cowboys years ago, around the campfire, back when men were men, and mice were mice.


Michonne Says: This can’t be right. I’ve known a lot of mice, and none of them eat anything except grass and seeds. Maybe some of them eat man-food they find on the ground, but they shouldn’t because men eat all sorts of bad things. And if your name is ‘Grass hoppy’, it only makes sense that you would eat grass. And probably hop, too.


Posted March 2, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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