As free as the grass grows…

So, the mice have gone into the Big Wide Wood.

They're out there somewhere...

They’re out there somewhere…

Their departure was delayed by about a week due to the Curious Incident of the Mice in the Pear Puree, which saw said animals roll in said fruity mush and then lick it off each other with relish – and great chunks of each other’s fur, resulting in this kind of arresting look:

Baldies

Baldies

So their release had to be postponed until their fur had grown back.

Mind you, even if they hadn’t given each other rebellious teenager haircuts, their release would still have been delayed as I didn’t want to let them go when the temperature was still going down to feeezing at night, whatever the state of their fur.

Despite this, for two of them, release almost came a little early. One evening, I heard scuttling noises coming from the blanket box next to the mouse box, which I dismissed as my mishearing due to a cold in the head. The mice terrarium (large plastic box with a pair of tights stetched over a hole in the lid) looked secure, but the noises persisted in coming from about two feet to the left of where they should have been coming from. I opened the blanket box and lo!, two meecelets were having a lovely time dropping droppings on the pillowcases, having apparently teleported over there.

Oh, and there are so many other fond memories of the Great Mouse Adventure; working out the best way to mimic dew so they could get some water; waking up in a hot sweat having left the heating on to keep the teeny mice warm; going to bed in a jumper and hat having had the heating off for days to acclimatise the bigger mice to the outside temperature; laughing at seeing the mice try to escape down a leg of the pair of tights covering their box; and weighing them at about two weeks and finding them tipping the scales at less than 20g all together:

Less than 5g each!

Less than 5g each!

That was probably about the last time I managed to hold them all in my hand:

A handful of mouseness

A handful of mouseness

It was amazing how they grew so quickly from stumpy,

8-day old mice and a penny

Stumpy mice

to gangly:

Gangly mice

Gangly mice

Gangly mice encore

Gangly mice encore

Hungry gangly mice

Hungry gangly mice

Gangly mouse

Gangly mouse

to sleek and plump.

Sleek and plump, with regrown fur

Sleek and plump, with regrown fur

It was lovely making them different dwelling places as they got bigger. When I introduced them to the big homemade terrarium full of wonders such as soil and bricks and paving stones and twigs, it was stunning to see them instantly start digging, gnawing, climbing and making their own nest. They instantly became Real Mice as soon as they were given the opportunity.

Inside the homemade terrarium

Inside the homemade terrarium

Taking some bedding back to the nest

Taking some bedding back to the nest

Despite having stopped handling them and having kept the house cold for several days, I was still worried about how to release them. I wanted to give them a chance of not getting eaten while they worked out what the Woods were all about. A few days ago, I had a midnight brainwave and realised a little nesting box would be the perfect transitional residence for four orphan mice leaving their foster home to make their way in the world. However, at the pet shop, I found that nesting boxes are rather large and deluxe this season, but Pickle’s Cottage seemed a good alternative:

Pickle's Cottage - the Halfway Mouse House

Pickle’s Cottage – the Halfway Mouse House

I lined it with a cardboard inner box and nailed the roof down on one side, so curious foxes couldn’t knock it off, and put bedding in one side and a week’s worth of grub on the other. I put it in with the mice so they could get used to it. They jumped straight in:

Trying out the house

Trying out the house

But for their last night chez moi, they preferred their own nest.

Last night in captivity

Last night in captivity

When I looked in their nest the following morning, there were only two mice.

‘Oh, Sod’s Law’, I thought, heart sinking. ‘Why must you be enacted now, at the final hurdle of the eleventh hour, why?’

I couldn’t see any signs of escape and calmly, sadly concluded they’d teleported off again. To somewhere in my house. Where they would no doubt breed without restraint. Then I noticed two tiny, tiny holes in the layers of tights acting as a lid to the terrarium. What clever, persistent creatures to chew an escape route while hanging upside down from a 60 denier American Tan reinforced gusset! Reminding myself that lightning doesn’t strike twice, I looked in the blanket box, just in case. And there they were. Dropping droppings in the pillowcases. Much frustrated squeaking (mostly from me) later, I had caught the Houdini Mice and popped them, their more stay-at-home siblings and their nest in Pickle’s Cottage, shut the lid and put the other half of the roof on.

Thus at quarter to seven this morning, I found myself setting off to the woods, clutching a bag of mice and a trowel. I didn’t meet anyone else in the woods. Which was probably best.

Though their fur tends to look greyish in the snaps, these mice are actually the browny colour of dead leaves. So I thought I’d set them up where they would be well-camouflaged. In a suitably isolated part of the woods, I climbed off the path, up a slope and into a holly bush. There, I dug the house into the ground:

The release house

The release house

And then pulled the masking tape off the mousehole.

The boldest mouse catapulted out of the hole and bounced away into the woods.

A few seconds later, the second boldest mouse peered out of the window:

First sight of the world

First sight of the world

He considered the new situation for a few seconds and then bounced off into the woods in the opposite direction to his brother.

Then there was silence and stillness.

Suddenly worried that the other two might have died of shock on the way, I took off half the roof, opened the cardboard interior box and there they were. Absolutely fine. Making themselves at home. So I shut them up again, covered up the house with leaves and twigs and left them to live their lives as mice.

Going...

Going…

Going...

Going…

Still going...

Still going…

Gone.

Gone.

So I’m now suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome.

Good Luck Meeces!

Life through a paintbrush

So, life at Burlington-Taylor Towers has, of late, largely been of the non-theatrical variety. Obviously, la vie de Claire is one long musical comedy, but this act has been filled with copywriting, personal and family admin, decision-making and hand-rearing baby field mice.

You know. As you do.

I had an uncharacteristic bout of tidying up. So extraordinarily uncharacteristic that the kitchen cupboards were turned out. And it was while I was poking about in the faintly remembered world of bleach bottles and J-cloths that I came across the mouse nest. Such a cleverly constructed mouse nest in the middle of a pile of dusters, with chewed up yellow duster fluff for cosiness and torn up scraps of newspaper for structure.  Mamma Mouse was there, but took one look at my ugly mug and turned tail, leaving a pulsing bundle of warm baby mouseness behind.

Four tiny, tiny mouselets. Stumpy-legged embryonic piglets with skin like suede. Part-developed ears completely flat to their heads. Eyes shut.

I shut the door, terrified that I’d scared the mother away from her babies.

It was worse than that.

The next morning, there was a very happy cat sitting next to a very deceased Mama Mouse on the kitchen floor.

Disaster.

I checked in the cupboard. The pulsing bundle of warm baby mouseness was not quite so pulsing and warm.

I was honour-bound to take over where I had unwittingly forced Mamma Mouse to leave off.

And that’s where the paintbrush came in.

Mouse nipples are very small. I don’t know this from personal experience; I’ve never knowingly seen a mouse nipple, let alone measured one, but I’m fairly confident that they really are quite astoundingly petite. So the question was, how could I replicate a mouse nipple sufficiently accurately to dupe the teeny meeces into suckling from it? The answer seemed to be to dash to the shop to pick up assorted milk products (soya milk, evaporated milk, condensed milk, cat milk…), trim a fine paintbrush down to just a few hairs and hope for the best.

I put their nest in a small cardboard box, sat the nest box on a hot water bottle and got on with trying to keep the miniscule creatures alive.

They took to the paintbrush impressively swiftly. I had to find the best way to hold them (wrapped in three fingers, so head is poking over index finger, held there by first finger and thumb) but they did latch on and suck, after a fashion. Warmed cat milk went down best, though the droplets they were consuming were really little more than molecules. They must have been starving, having had 18 hours or so (which, if they were 5 days old when I found them – as my later internet research indicated they were – would be 15% of their lives) with nothing to eat, so an iota of anything must have been so welcome, even if it was coming from something that neither smelt nor felt like Mamma Mouse.

A few days later, having gained confidence in my brush technique, I thought of taking some snapshots:

The Meeces - about 8 days old

The Meeces – about 8 days old

8-day old mice and a penny

8-day old mice and a penny

And that’s how Great Mouse Adventure began…