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Mighty mice; Kids learning to love them.

Byline: Lynne Klaft

LANCASTER - The Audubon Society's Animal Ark program brought the world of mice families to youngsters at the Thayer Memorial Library last week.

"Mice are rodents. What do you think are the biggest rodents in that family?" asked Marianne Neuman of the Audubon Society's Drumlin Farm sanctuary.

"Yes, beavers are one of the biggest, and the other has a holiday named for it ... groundhogs, or woodchucks, are also rodents," Ms. Neuman said.

Mice are not hibernators, unlike their cousins the Meadow Jumping mice, and tunnel under the snow during the winter months.

"These mice eat what we call mouse chow and also like seeds, cracked corn and millet, bird seed," Ms. Neuman told the children as she put 17 adult mice, three adults and numerous little mice into a portable habitat.

"They have sharp, pointy teeth that grow all the time, like fingernails do, so they need to chew on things," Ms. Neuman said.

The society keeps several mice families at Drumlin Farm for traveling educational programs that go to schools, libraries and senior centers.

"The life span of a mouse is about two years, and mother mice can have 12 to 16 babies in a litter.

"We had a mother that gave birth to 24 babies once ... that was a record for the farm!" Ms. Neuman said.

The Drumlin Farm in Lincoln is one of 43 Audubon sanctuaries in the state. The working farm raises lambs, chickens and other animals that are fed organically.

"We also have 12 acres of pesticide-free vegetables," said Ms. Neuman adding that the farm is open to visitors and has just recently opened a certified preschool on the grounds.

Other fun mouse facts: Babies are born without fur and remain that way for 10 days. Their skin is transparent at that age, and after they drink milk, a white spot - the milk - is visible in their bellies.

If a mouse can fit his face through a small space, the rest of his body will be able to come through.

Mice with red eyes are missing the pigment that colors eyes. Mice in the wild are brown and white to better camouflage them from predators and house mice are usually just one color - brown, white, tan or grey.

"Mice can make good pets, but their life spans are shorter," Ms. Neuman said.

Mouse tails are used for balance and are about the length of their bodies.

Regarding tales of other rodents' tails, Ms. Neuman debunked the myth that opossums hang from trees by their tails.

Rats and mice are both rodents, but different species.

"They have similar habits, behaviors and are both nocturnal, and no, they don't eat cheese ... we don't want our mice to be fat!" said Ms. Neuman to questions from the children.

For more information on the Audubon Society's traveling educational programs, visit the Web site at www.MassAudubon.org.

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Children gather around a small pen to view mice during a program at Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster. (2) A small white mouse jumps from Marianne Neuman's hand during an Audubon Society program at Thayer Memorial Library.

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 3, 2008
Words:527
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