How to get things done on campus
Catching a mouse

22 January 2003 |

Grains of rice cake litter the floor around your chair. There’s a golfball-size burrow in the soil of your potted ficus. You notice a few hardened specks of unmentionables at the back of a file drawer.

Chances are that while you were away enjoying the holidays, a mouse fleeing the cold and rain found refuge and snacks in your dry cubicle. Your first impulse is to jump on your chair, the next to fetch your cat, but ultimately you remember that Physical Plant has a pest-management unit. You call 642-0878, and Margaret Hurlbert answers.

A biologist by training, Hurlbert has worked in pest control on campus for 27 years. She knows mice. “They breed in summer, and in winter they come inside to get warm. This is just the time we start getting telephone calls,” she says.

When mice come to college, they can cause serious problems if they get into museum collections or eat experimental corn. “In one of the older buildings they ate some of the research seeds,” Hurlbert notes.

She has an arsenal of techniques for attacking the problem. The first is prevention. Mice need to eat every day, she says. If they have no food, they’ll leave. Seal your rice cakes in plastic containers, cookie tins, glass jars, or the refrigerator. Don’t let food sit in the garbage overnight; put it someplace where it will be picked up every evening.

Even better, keep mice out of the office by sealing up holes to the outside. “Mice can squeeze into a space no wider than a Bic pen,” Hurlbert says. “They get their tiny heads in and squish their cartilage bodies through.”

When there’s a chronic infestation, Physical Plant workers can seal an external door by installing a sheet-metal kick plate on the bottom.

If prevention fails and you have mouse clues, call Hurlbert. She’ll give you a choice of traps and visit your office to set them. Live traps are baited with peanut butter, dead traps (a.k.a. snap traps) with some other substance that mice like. “Only one in six requests is for a live trap,” she reports. “Most people don’t like mice.”

To discard dead mice and disposable traps yourself, protect your hands with plastic bags. Trapped live mice should be released near the creek or bushes, at least 100 yards from any building, Hurlbert says.

“If people can do it themselves, that’s good, but we’ll come and get them if you prefer,” she offers.

So far, this isn’t an especially bad season for mice: Hurlbert has been fielding only about eight calls a month. Take precautions, and yours won’t be among them.

— Nancy Chapman


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