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Harvest mice are the most adorable and smallest rodents in Europe. They measure 1.5 inches from head to tip of tail when fully grown. That's incredibly tiny! These sweet little rascals are the only British mammal to have a prehensile tail. Which means they can grab objects with the tips of their tails to balance themselves skilfully between tall blades of grass. They normally have a reddish-yellow coat with a distinct white underside. They have small hairy ears and a much blunter nose than other mice.
They are mostly active at night, but they do come out during the day in the warmer months. They build several grass nests throughout a season, for breeding, sleeping and resting. Harvest mice are less active in winter but they do not hibernate. They stay close to the ground for warmth and insulation, and store food to help them through the long winter months.
Unfortunately, these little guys have become an endangered species because they make their small nests connected to tall grasses above the ground in open fields of grain. This has proven to be extremely dangerous for them due to the fact they can be killed during harvest time by machinery. Because of this, there population has declined rapidly over 30 years, and they are becoming exceedingly rare.
In the county of Leicestershire, UK, animal conservationists have come up with a creative way to protect these endangered mice. With the help of local tennis clubs and Wimbledon, who donate hundreds of retired tennis balls to the foundation, they are able to give these tiny creatures an alternative and safer home.
I got the privilege of seeing my first two elusive Harvest Mice while traveling back from Loch Ness to Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 2010. It was late at night, and the fog was super thick as we drove through the Mountains. My father was driving very slowly, and I was upfront helping him navigate by paying close attention to the path ahead. Suddenly our eyes caught a glimpse of something small and furry. It was a harvest mouse bounding across the road and then another. I blinked several times to make sure my eyes weren't playing tricks on me, but, sure enough they were real. In a flash, they hopped into the dark grass on the other side and were gone from our sight. Only a few records have been found of them being in that region. They mainly stay in southern and eastern England, with a few records in the Midlands, the north of England and southern Scotland. They are entirely absent from Ireland. Which makes me feel kinda special that we crossed paths. Literally! :)
Special thanks to Jolle Jolles, Zooligist Cambridge University.