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AND YOU THOUGHT THE PANDEMIC WAS BAD…

By Zachary Ciras on May 7, 2021.

You may have seen in the news that Australia is currently experiencing a severe national outbreak of mice. A plague, if you will. Not just a few more mice than usual, but house mice running amok in every home and business, and devastating crops.

Australia is a very big country but mice are everywhere. New South Wales is the most populous state and reports millions of mice on the move in its western districts. There are also serious infestations in southern Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

These things happen. It’s not Australia’s first mouse plague. Or, so far, not even its worst mouse plague. That happened in 1993 when mice did $96 million worth of damage to crops and attacked livestock in poultry farms and piggeries. There are outbreaks of mice in crop areas about every five years in Australia, but few reach these plague numbers. Turns out it was a good breeding season for mice in Australia.

IN AUSTRALIA, EVERY DAY AND EVERY NIGHT, IT’S MICE!

Mouse hiding in urban house garden.

Steve Henry, a mouse expert with CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, says there is an emotional toll, as well. “People have become exhausted. There are mice in their linen press, in their pantry, running across their beds, eating their food. Every day, when they get up, there are mice. Every night, when they go to bed, there are mice.” Reportedly, even the cats and dogs are sick of chasing mice.

For obvious reasons, farmers seem to be hit the hardest and crop production losses are already in the millions. Famers have been bitten in their beds and have resorted to placing bed legs in buckets of water or sand. One farmer near Dubbo captured more than 500 mice in one night and then graciously shared details of his bucket traps used to catch them.

MICE WILL GNAW THEIR WAY TO FOOD SOURCES

Two mice living in a brick wall

People have not been very successful in fortifying (rodent-proofing) their homes against the mouse invasion because of the sheer numbers of determined mice invading. Mice are notorious chewers, gnawing through practically anything to get where they want to be. A recent flood, rather than drowning the mice as hoped, drove many indoors instead. Some gnawed their way through doors and silicone caulk around windows. (See Can Rodent-proofing Work?)

Henry says that the smell is overpowering. When the mice are alive, he says, it’s the smell of their urine scent trails. Then, when poisoned, they often move beneath a building to die resulting in even worse smells that last a long time.

COMING SOON, A PLAGUE OF SNAKES

As could be predicted by pest control pros or those who know anything about snake biology, Australia’s mouse plague has now created a snake plague, proving the adage, “If you feed them…they will come.” (See Eliminate Mice to Eliminate Snakes.)

Of perhaps greater concern is that the huge numbers of mice in close association with people could result in cases of food poisoning from food contaminated with mouse urine, hairs, or droppings. There’s also a risk of mouse-transmitted diseases such as leptospirosis or typhus fever. Mice can leave their personal parasites (fleas, mites, ticks) behind. (See Why We Don’t Like Living with Mice!)

There are no immediate answers for Australians. Nicole Morris, who runs a café in the town of Gulargambone, captures 50 mice a night but then has trouble killing them. “The other day I just couldn’t do death,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corp., “so I let them all go.”

[Sources: (1) Richard Glover, “Australia’s ‘mice plague’ is horrific. Consider yourself warned.” The Washington Post, May 2, 2021; (2) Steve Henry, “No one ever forgets living through a mouse plague…” The Conversation, April 29, 2021]

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