The Intersection

When North Carolina temperatures dip, the old houses in Durham typically offer a crevice here or there for slipping in. And mice are kind of like sea cucumbers in the way they squish themselves through even the smallest vulnerability.

We discovered Gus and Jaq last month. I was up late working on the manuscript when a suspicious looking critter with whiskers crossed the kitchen. So your resident blogger invested in $20 plug-in eradicators. (My old Classics professor swears by them). Touted as the humane alternative to snap traps, they supposedly emit a high frequency sound somewhat akin to what we’d detect as fingernails on chalkboard. But it turns out our squatters are pretty punk rock. Instead of giving up, they partied.

This morning, I awoke to find my blueberry muffins had been plundered and pillaged, even though they had been wrapped up directly in front of the plug. Sans breakfast, you can imagine my disappointment. So instead I had my first pomelo, which I learned, is a lot of fun to eat. But while I plan to continue enjoying Citrus maxima, I’d like to send Mus musculus packing.

i-b232a270cfdbba32987597f3fa8a6af7-tomandjerry.png And so folks, it may not be science exactly, but I’m taking suggestions for getting rid of the rodents that reside with us (and I refuse to try glue paper). Has anyone had success with live traps?

If only Sparticus wasn’t allergic to cats…

* UPDATE: About That Mouse…


  1. #1 Shecky
    January 4, 2009

    Plundering and pillaging blueberry muffins (yummm) would be the last straw for me!!… on the one occasion I tried live traps they didn’t work (but I bought the cheapest ones, maybe the more expensive ones would succeed?), and I ended up resorting back to snap traps that worked.

  2. #2 Ashutosh
    January 4, 2009

    Ah…the nice old rat/mice problems. I had a total of three rats in my apartment. The high-frequency thingie did not work for me too. Let me just restrict myself to saying that the only thing more disgusting than blueberry muffins being pillaged is fried chicken bones being pillaged and scattered all over the living room carpet…

    No, in the end humane methods did not work (use glue paper if you want to sample rat hair for breakfast) and grudgingly I had to resort to robust plastic traps virtually drowned in peanut butter.

    Another alternative is to play Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. That might drive off a few human critters too.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    January 4, 2009

    Yes, you can make live traps work, as long as you then have a plan for what you do with the live mouse once you’ve gotten it!

    I’ve written an extensive answer to your question.

    In the end, you may have to use some snap traps for at least some of the mice. This may occur over the day or two after they’ve eaten one of your books or chewed holes in every clothing item in a particular dresser drawer or something along those lines.

  4. #4 chezjake
    January 4, 2009

    I’ve had moderate success with a live trap similar to the “Tin Cat” shown here:

    I’ve actually caught up to three mice at a time with it. (I live in an old farmhouse where mice are a fact of life.) Best bait, in my opinion, is a piece of toast spread with peanut butter.

    If you do use a live trap, make sure you transport any caught mice far from your house before you release them.

  5. #5 John
    January 4, 2009

    We get a few mice, but we’re pretty well prepared due to our parrots: We get little moths in the birdseed that will lay eggs in dry food. Nothing like er… baby moths… squirming around in your breakfast cereal.

    So, all of our dry goods are in jars. They’re cheap and impervious to critters. Looks nice, too. Makes using the bulk section at the grocery store easier. (3 liters usually equals 5 pounds of grains) For stuff from boxes with instructions, we cut off the instructions and throw them in the jar, or just write on the jar with a marker.

    The bread and blueberry muffins go in the fridge; they keep longer and the seal on the door keeps out small critters. If you can find stand alone shelving with legs the mousies can’t stick to to climb up, that’s good, too. Keep in mind, they know all the good mountain climber tricks, like using small gaps or the space between the wall and a shelf leg to climb. Way back when, people used to hang food. Not a bad idea if you keep a lot of fruit and veggies around.

    It’s your finite stash of food vs an endless supply of mice: the food’s easier to address than the mice! It’s not a total cure, but it’s a good step in addition to live traps. Don’t give them a reason to stay, and trap the ones that insist!

  6. #6 george.w
    January 4, 2009

    Whatever you wind up doing, thank you for eschewing glue paper. The thought of the slow death that happens to a mouse glued inside a little box, makes me ill. At least when our cats catch them, its all over in a few minutes.

    I liked Greg’s post.

  7. #7 Tony P
    January 4, 2009

    As one with very long experience with vermin control I can tell you that you don’t want live traps.

    I too abhor glue traps, that’s just cruel. Use an old fashioned snap trap. Keep re-setting it though because where there is one there is a whole family of them.

    If you want something more active, get a cat from the pound. The pounds currently asks if cats are mousers when they’re brought in so you can browse by that criteria.

  8. #8 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    January 4, 2009

    Thanks to all for the helpful advice so far…

  9. #9 Jfrey
    January 4, 2009

    I’ve found rescuing Pit Bulls, especially the ones that are more Tarrier then Bull dog, is an extremely effective way of controling mice outbreaks. It’s not exactly humane but it’s natural and probably karmicly balanced.

    Of course there is always the chance they’ll snap.

  10. #10 Anon
    January 4, 2009

    Purina makes a rat/mouse chow, as does Noyes (in many different varieties). Set up an operant chamber station, initially on a variable-time and CRF combined schedule; eventually they will learn to work for their food, and you can do valuable research while insuring (via the matching law) that they leave your books and leftovers alone.

    Once they have been autoshaped to lever-press, you can shape other behavior–I suggest wheel-running, which you can use as an alternative power source. With sufficient mousepower, you could sell electricity back to the grid.

    Alternately, you could train them as your own personal rodent army, especially useful if your house is ever plagued with nutcrackers at christmastime. I think I saw that in a documentary once. I remember the sound-track, anyway.

  11. #11 SVK
    January 4, 2009

    Sheril, Sherman box traps work well. It is likely that someone at the university who does field research on mammals has one. Peanut butter and oatmeal is a mouse favorite and good for bait. One you catch the mouse drive about two or three miles away to release it. It will not forget the source of blueberry muffins very quickly and will keep returning to look for more if it is too close by. Good luck!

  12. #12 Mike Kelly
    January 4, 2009

    Maybe a lesson learned with sea lions at the Ballard Locks in Seattle could apply here.

    Wildlife officials tried, among other things, live trapping/hauling and annoying sounds — even a life-size plastic orca with orca noises — to keep the sea lions from hanging around the fish ladder and chowing down on ESA-listed steelhead and salmon. If I recall, the noise makers worked to keep NEW sea lions from finding the easy pickings, but did not deter ones who had already discovered the “blueberry muffins.”

    A couple of the worst offenders were trapped and hauled to California. They swam right back to Ballard — the legend says they made it back faster than the truck that hauled ’em away.

    So maybe don’t give up on the noise maker yet. But you gotta get rid of the educated mice first.

    If there’s a hell for people who use snap traps on mice and rats, I’m going there for sure…

  13. #13 Darkling
    January 4, 2009

    I did a mark-recapture study on mice for my PhD using Elliot traps and a mix of peanut butter and rolled oats as bait. Worked pretty well (about 12000 caps and recaps).

    I had mice come into my apartment last winter and put out snap traps for them. I baited those with peanut butter and while I caught a few there were still new ones coming in. Then I went and bought some space filler which seems to have been much more effective than the trapping.

    Still is it really more humane to use the live traps and then release soemwhere outside where they’ll probably go on to be someone else’s problem or dinner?

  14. #14 lurker
    January 4, 2009

    In my house, I figured out where the rat (in my case) was coming in. There was space around the drain pipe from the kitchen sink. I tried filling in the hole with the space filler, Good Stuff, then had to listen to the rat chew through it, and got to clean up little bits of it all over the kitchen. Then, I tried stuffing the hole with steel wool, which worked wonderfully. No more rat in the house, and it’s been months. If you can get to the spaces where the mice are coming in, and block them with steel wool, you might not need traps.

    Good luck!

  15. #15 Miriam
    January 4, 2009

    Old fashioned snap traps. The old school traps break little mice necks very cleanly, and they die with yummy peanut butter in their mouths. All in all, not a bad way to go.

    The best way to bait the traps is to melt a couple chocolate chips and mix the melted chocolate with peanut butter. Then let a nice big dollop harden on the trap. The mouse will gnaw on the chocolate, which assures that its head will be in the right position for a nice clean break. Keep setting the traps over and over until you stop catching mice, since there’s probably a whole family in your walls.

  16. #16 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    January 4, 2009

    After exploring links and reviews, we ordered this one.

    Will report back on the results…

  17. #17 Carlie
    January 4, 2009

    The problem with live traps, from what I’ve been told, is that if you don’t deposit them at least a mile from home they’ll find their way right back. Live traps might also hide the extent of the problem if you think it’s the same one repeating. We finally gave up and got snap traps a couple of months ago for what we thought were two mice, and got 12 over the course of two days. Um, oops.

  18. #18 Troy McConaghy
    January 5, 2009

    My advice would be to get a cat or similar (e.g. a barn owl), even if just temporarily. It’s perfectly normal and natural for them to catch mice. If we were to decree that “it’s inhumane to allow animals to eat other animals” we’d be trying to shut down the web of life, which, of course, is absurd.

  19. #19 Darkling
    January 5, 2009

    Old fashioned snap traps. The old school traps break little mice necks very cleanly, and they die with yummy peanut butter in their mouths. All in all, not a bad way to go.

    Usually. Not always.

    What pushed me to the space filler approach (and I used a lot of space filler so they’re probably still trying to work their way through it) was that I opened a draw to check on the trap in there and found a very unhappy mouse that had got caught by the leg.

    If the mice ever start coming back into my apartment, then I’ll try using steel wool to block up where they come in. Although I will mention that at the end of my study quite a few of the metal Elliot traps that I was using to trap mice had irregular edges on the doors where they’d been chewed. So I suspect that the steel wool is just a further delaying tactic.

    I did consider putting poison out, but don’t really like the idea of them dying in the walls and some of the neighbours have cats as well.

  20. #20 Cal Harth
    January 5, 2009

    You are getting some good advice about live traps. The Shermans work well if set properly. As others have stated, mixed rolled oats and peanut butter works quite well for bait. The ratio should be about 5 to 1 rolled oats to peanut butter. About a half teaspoon is usually adequate for quantity.
    Since you are making an effort to be humane, I’d suggest adding a little wad of toilet paper (maybe 8 inches off the roll) as nesting material in the back of the trap. Mice soak the trap with urine in a few hours and survival is enhanced with a little tissue for their comfort.
    Sherman traps are best used inside your home. For outside live trapping you would need a trap that is designed to keep predators like weasels from entering the trap after the mouse is inside.
    Set the trap so that only about 10 grams weight is required to cause the door to drop. The trap should be placed with the door facing into an area of good cover because mice are wary.
    If you want to be sure you are not getting the same mouse back later in a recapture you can mark the mouse by toe clipping. Dump the captured mouse into a plastic bag held securely over the door opening. Catch the mouse through the bag by grasping it by the scruff of the neck. Then peal back the bag to expose the feet. A sharp little scissors will clip a toe or two without harming the mouse much. Make sure that the mouse does not suffocate in the bag. It will shove its nose into a corner of the bag in an attempt to escape.
    Good luck,

  21. #21 Philip H.
    January 5, 2009

    Miss Sheril,
    Tiger will be happy to come down and help you – but his hourly rate is a bit steep. Of course, with he and Hurley prowling the house, we get neither mice nor birds, though I’m sure Sparticus would be welcomed as a guest of the highest order.

  22. #22 Art
    January 6, 2009

    Working in construction and rehabilitation I have drawn a few conclusions:

    For stuffing holes the best materials are the course mineral wool used as sound deadening in commercial construction or nonferrous metal ‘wools’. If you have a friendly demeanor you can often get the left over mineral wool by talking up the commercial drywall or insulation contractors who install it. Last I tried I got a five gallon bucket full for a smile and handshake. You can also check the dumpsters at building sites.

    You can use steel wool but it will rust and stain and can attack many building materials over time. Copper or brass wools, sold to furniture refinishers, are ideal. Copper or stainless scrubbing pads are excellent but expensive if you don’t buy them at a deep discount. Try the local dollar stores.

    Be aware that the most common use of these scrubbers is as a filter material for crack pipes. Just so you know what the knowing glances are all about.

    Stuff the holes with metal wool and finish with a layer of caulk to keep the air out and provide a smooth paintable surface.

    Most hardware store plumbing departments carry metal escutcheons that help seal holes around pipes and provide a finished surface. For existing plumbing get the split type that doesn’t require taking apart the plumbing to install them.

    Old timers used to patch over mouse holes with flattened bits of tin cans. Nailed, screwed and/or caulked in place they work well. On the up side cans are free and it is a form of recycling.

    Rolls of aluminum or galvanized steel flashing are available if you have a lot of holes to patch or wan to look professional. Aluminum will usually work and is easiest to work with, scissors will cut it, but if the mice really want to get through they can chew through. Makes a hell of a racket when they do.

    Remember that unlike humans mice don’t have fillings so they don’t have the same distaste for chewing aluminum most of us do.

    The most dangerous thing mice do is chew the insulation off wiring. I have seen three-conductor cables running 240v AC, 120v to ground, with every bit of insulation chewed off for several feet. Took a long time to chew it off and the mouse, because there was no body, didn’t get electrocuted. It had been like that for years and hadn’t caused a fire. We found it during an inspection.

    If you have mice look closely at where cables go through holes in building materials. That is where the mice chew off the insulation to make room for themselves to get through. I have never seen them attack the cables where it is sealed with caulk, foam or fiber insulation stuffed in tight. Only where there was an existing hole they could expand.

    Mice can be a risk. But for major electrical damage look to rats and, the worse, squirrels. I have seen where they have attacked PVC pipes and even chewed through galvanized steel to gain access to a food supply in an unoccupied house. They chewed every electrical cable they could lay their teeth on. This caused a small fire and required the entire house to be rewired. With the number of abandoned houses increasing this will be a more frequent problem.

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