This article is from the Winter 2001 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Pat Bromberek, Portage, WI
I first got mice about 10 years ago, and I knew nothing about them except that they reproduced a lot and were playfully cute. My first was Blonda, an orange brindle. I got her from a lab. My friend who was the caretaker of this strain of mice also gave me an albino male. He was quite a husky fellow so we named him Armadillo. But it didn’t end here. Blonda and Armadillo were the parents of 10 babies: there were 5 boys and 5 girls and they went home with me too.
The five girls were all solid orange and four of the boys were orange and brindle except for one—he was a charcoal black! For about 2 weeks the whole family lived in a 20-gallon aquarium, and it was so fascinating to watch them doing typical mousey things—eating, playing, scurrying around the two wheels, crawling through cardboard tubes. Only Armadillo was excluded; however, I placed his smaller aquarium next to theirs so he could see them and not feel so lonely.
When the little ones turned 6 weeks old, it was time to separate the sexes: the girls stayed with mom and the boys moved in with dad in a 20-gallon tank. Everybody was living in harmony. I was happy because they were happy in their new digs. But this was going to change, not the girls but the boys, and I was not prepared.
The boys started to fight! At first it wasn’t bad but I began to notice that their sparrings were escalating into blood-drawing fighting! I couldn’t understand why this was going on, “They are all brothers and dad is living with them too! Why are they fighting?!” I pondered while trying to figure out what to do to bring peace to all again. In the meantime, I told my friend about what was going on and she couldn’t believe I put them all together! She said, “The hormones are kicking in and it makes no difference whether they’re related or not.” This I didn’t know. So what to do with six male mice? This was the question, and now I had to find a solution fast.
I was not prepared to find one little boy on the brink of death. He was laying in the corner of the tank. From the back of his hind legs to the middle of his back, this little guy was nothing but raw meat! He lay motionless alone while the others were curled up sleeping in a pile on the opposite end of the aquarium. Suddenly, I saw a shiver creep across the little limp body, “He’s alive!” I gently lifted him out and tended to his wound. I then placed him in a little mouse lab cage. He managed to eat and drink a little—good signs he would survive. But in the meantime, what to do with the remaining four plus dad so this would be the last incident. The next victim may not be so lucky. But how ironic it was that the little charcoal guy was the first victim. Maybe because he looked different that he got picked on. Do mice recognize color? The whole heap of the four plus dad continued to sleep peacefully as if nothing had happened. The next couple of days the little charcoal mouse improved, and his dad and siblings were not fighting. I really found this strange and decided to keep him out and leave the others together. After all, everybody is getting along. So I thought. Two weeks after “Charcoal’s” incident, there was a fracas free-for-all going on in the once peaceful tank. Squeaking, scratching, biting, bedding and toys flying around!! As for Charcoal, his wound dried up and scabbed over and eventually fell off. He did lose the use of his back legs, but as he healed up he began to re-use them. He was fine, but not the situation in the tank, and I had to act now!
“Okay guys! You had your chance for living together peacefully, but it’s obvious your hormones dictates otherwise so it’s living alone for everybody! Don’t need another Charcoal incident, or worse yet, one that might be killed!” I had a stack of small mouse cages I got from my friend and setting up five, I removed each mouse (what a challenge that was in the frenzy they were in!) and placed one in each cage. They let me know they did not like this new arrangement by their running and squeaking hysterically in the new, smaller-by-far cages. No toys, no wheels, no playmates (which obviously the hormones destroyed any chance of being buddies). They looked so lonely. I really felt sad for them. The tank full of the girls and mom was a constant scene of bustle and playing. They were so happy! What to do about the boys. Even if I handled and played with each one (which I did), it was not enough. I looked at the aquarium where all had lived, now silent, the wheels not spinning, no activity of playful busy mice, and then it hit me . . . The Mouse of the Day!! I knew it would work! And with new enthusiasm I started with cage #1 (dad). For 24 hours each mouse would have the “Disneyland” aquarium to himself and could play to his heart’s desire. And that’s exactly what I did—each day a different mouse. Of course each left their scent and for a few minutes the new mouse would be going bonkers looking for the “other male on my turf,” but when it was realized nobody else was in there, off to the wheels to do some serious spinning—24 hours worth and just that mouse to play with reckless abandon!!
This arrangement lasted for their entire lives. Even little Charcoal got to spin 24 hours a day on his turn. I still felt sad that they couldn’t be together all the time, but by letting them play for 24 hours a day they were able to have some fun. I put small tubes in their individual cage and handled them daily. They got to be so mellow, but put ’em together . . .
I still have mice and yes, I have male mice, two to be exact and one tank of girls. However, the set-up is a little different: each boy has his own 3-gallon tank complete with tubes and wheel, but instead of Mouse of the Day, it’s Mouse of the Day EVERY DAY!