45            Wilson's Meadow Mouse

                          ARVICOLA PENNSYLVANICA.--ORD
                           [Microtus pennsylvanicus]

                             WILSON'S MEADOW-MOUSE.
                                 [Meadow Vole]

                            PLATE XLV.--Two figures.

     A. supra, cervinus; subtus, subalbicans; auriculis abreviatis

     Brownish fawn-colour above; beneath, grayish-white; eyes, small; ears,
short and round.


     SHORT-TAILED MOUSE, Forster, Phil. Trans., vol. lxii., p. 380, No. 18.
     MEADOW MOUSE, Pennant's Arctic Zoology, vol. i., p. 133.
     THE CAMPAGNOL or MEADOW MOUSE of PENNSYLVANIA, Warden's Description of the
        U.S., vol. v., p. 625.
     ARVICOLA PENNSYLVANICA, Ord, Guthrie's Geography.
     ARVICOLA PENNSYLVANICA, in Wilson's Ornithology, vol. vi, pl. 50, fig. 3.
     ARVICOLA PENNSYLVANICA, Harlan, F. A., p. 144.
     ARVICOLA ALBO-RUFESCENS, Emmons, Mass. Reports, p. 60, variety.
     ARVICOLA HIRSUTUS, Emmons, Mass. Report.
     ARVICOLA HIRSUTUS, Dekay, Nat. Hist. N.Y., p. 86.


     Body, robust, cylindrical, broadest across the shoulders; diminishing
towards the loins; fur, on the whole body, long and fine, but not lustrous; on
the upper surface (in winter specimens) half an inch long, but not more than
half that length beneath.
     Head, large and conical; forehead, arched; nose, rather blunt; incisors,
projecting; eyes, small, situated equidistant from the auditory opening and the
point of the nose; the longest whiskers, about the length of the head; nostrils,
lateral ; nose, bilobate, clothed with short hairs; lips, fringed with longer
hairs; mouth, beneath, not terminal; ears, large, rounded, membranous, concealed
by the fur, naked within except along the margins, where they have a few long
soft hairs; auricular opening, large.  The neck is so short that the head and
shoulders seem united, like those of the shrew-mole.
     Fore-feet slender, having four toes and a thumb, which is furnished with a
sharp nail; nails, small, compressed, slightly hooked and sharp.  The toes have
five tubercles; the second toe from the thumb is longest, the third a little
shorter, the first still shorter, and the outer one shortest.
     The hind-feet are a little longer than the fore-feet; the third and fourth
toes from the inner side are nearly of equal length, the second toe is a little
shorter, the fifth still shorter, and the first is shortest.  The soles of the
hind-feet have five distinct tubercles; all the feet are clothed with short,
adpressed hairs.  The tail is short, scaly, cylindrical, slightly clothed with
rigid hair extending beyond the vertebrae.


     Teeth, dark orange; fur, from the roots to near the tips, on every part of
the body, dark plumbeous.  The colour differs a shade or two between winter and
summer.  It may be characterized as brownish-gray above, a little darker on the
back.  The lips, chin, throat, and abdomen, are light bluish-gray.  Feet,
dark-brown; tail, brown above, and a shade lighter beneath; eyes, black;
whiskers, white and black.



     Length of head and body.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  5
     Length of tail.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  1 3/4

     Another specimen.                                        Inches.

     Length of head and body.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  5 1/2
     Length of tail (vertebrae).  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  1 1/2
     Length of tail including fur .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  1 3/4


     We have had opportunities in New-York, Pennsylvania, and the New-England
States, of learning some of the habits of this species.  It is, in fact, the
common Meadow-Mouse of the Northern and Eastern States.
     Wherever there is a meadow in any of these States, you may find small
tortuous paths cut through the grass, appearing as if they had been partially
dug into the earth, leading to the roots of a stump, or the borders of some bank
or ditch.  These are the work of this little animal.  Should you dig around the
roots, or upturn the stump, you may find a family of from five to ten of this
species, and will see them scampering off in all directions; and although they
do not run fast, they have so many hiding places, that unless you are prompt in
your attack, they are likely to escape you.  Their galleries do not run under
ground like those of the shrew mole, or the mischievous pine-mouse, (of
LECONTE,) but extend along the surface sometimes for fifty yards.
     The food of this species consists principally of roots and grasses.  During
summer it obtains an abundant supply of herds-grass, (Phleum pratense,) red-top,
(Agrostis vulgaris,) and other plants found in the meadows; and when the fields
are covered with snow it still pursues its summer paths, and is able to feed on
the roots of these grasses, of which there is always a supply so abundant that
it is generally in good condition.  It is also fond of bulbs, and feeds on the
meadow-garlic, (Allium Canadense,) and red lily, (Lilium Philadelphicum.)
     We doubt whether this active little arvicola ever does much injury to the
meadows; and in the wheat-fields it is not often a depredator, as it is seldom
seen on high ground.  Still, we have to relate some of its habits that are not
calculated to win the affections of the farmer.  In very severe winters, when
the ground is frozen, and there is no covering of snow to protect the roots of
its favourite grasses, it resorts for a subsistence to the stems of various
shrubs and fruit trees, from which it peals off the bark, and thus destroys
them.  We possessed a small but choice nursery of fruit trees, which we had
grafted ourselves, that was completely destroyed during a severe winter by this
Meadow-Mouse, the bark having been gnawed from the wood for several inches from
the ground upwards.  Very recently our friend, the late DR. WRIGHT, of Troy,
sent us the following observations on this species:--
     "Two or three winters ago several thousand young fruit trees were destroyed
in two adjoining nurseries near our city; the bark was gnawed from them by some
small animal, for the space of several inches, the lowest part of the denuded
surface being about ten inches from the ground.  I examined the premises the
following spring.  The ground had been frozen very hard all winter, owing to the
small quantity of snow that had fallen.  I supposed that some little animal that
subsists on the roots of grasses, had been cut off from its ordinary food by the
stony hardness of the ground, and had attacked the trees from the top of the
snow.  I looked around for the destroyer, and found a number of the present
species, and no other.  I strongly suspect that this animal caused the mischief,
as it is very abundant and annoys the farmer not a little.
     "A few years ago a farmer gave me permission to upset some stacks of corn
on a piece of low land:  I found an abundance of this species in shallow holes
under them, and discovered some distance up between the stalks, the remains of
cobs and kernels, showing that they had been doing no friendly work for the
     We suspect, however, that the mischief occasioned to the nursery by this
species is infinitely greater than that arising from any depreciations it
commits on wheat or corn-fields.
     The nests of this arvicola are always near the surface; sometimes two or
three are found under the same stump.  We have frequently during summer observed
them on the surface in the meadows, where they were concealed by the
overshadowing grasses.  They are composed of about a double handful of leaves of
soft grasses, and are of an oval shape, with an entrance on the side.
     WILSON'S Meadow-Mouse swims and dives well.  During a freshet which covered
some neighbouring meadows, we observed several of them on floating bunches of
grass, sticks, and marsh weeds, sitting in an upright posture as if enjoying the
sunshine, and we saw them leaving these temporary resting places and swimming to
the neighbouring high grounds with great facility; a stick thrown at them on
such occasions will cause them to dive like a musk-rat.
     This species does not, in any part of the United States, visit dwellings or
outhouses, although RICHARDSON states that it possesses this habit in Canada.
We have scarcely ever met with it on high grounds, and it seems to avoid thick
     It produces young three or four times during the summer, from two to five
at a birth.  As is the case with the Florida rat and the white-footed mouse, the
young of this species adhere to the teats, and are in this way occasionally
dragged along by the mother.  We would, however, here remark, that this habit,
which is seen in the young of several animals, is by no means constant.  It is
only when the female is suddenly surprised and driven from her nest whilst
suckling her young, that they are carried off in this manner.  The young of this
species that we had in confinement, after satisfying themselves, relinquished
their hold, and permitted the mother to run about without this incumbrance.
     This species is easily caught in wire-traps baited with a piece of apple,
or even meat; we have occasionally found two in a trap at the same time.  When
they have become accustomed to the confinement of a cage they are somewhat
familiar, feed on grass and seeds of different kinds, and often come to the bars
of the cage to receive their food.
     They frequently sit erect in the manner of marmots or squirrels, and while
in this position clean their faces with their paws, continuing thus engaged for
a quarter of an hour at a time.  They drank a good deal of water, and were
nocturnal in their habits.  During the day-time they constantly nestled under
some loose cotton, where they lay, unless disturbed, until dusk, when they ran
about their place of confinement with great liveliness and activity, clinging to
the wires and running up and down in various directions upon them, as if intent
on making their escape.

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     We have found this species in all the New-England States, where it is very
common.  It is abundant in all the meadows of the State of New-York.  It is the
most common species in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia.  We have found it in
Maryland and Delaware.  It exists in the valleys of the Virginia Mountains; and
we obtained a number of specimens from our friend, EDMUND RUFFIN, Esq., who
procured them on the Pamunkey River, in Hanover county, in that State, where it
is quite abundant.  We have traced it as far south as the northern boundary of
North Carolina; and to the north have met with it in Upper and Lower Canada.
FORSTER obtained it from Hudson's Bay, and RICHARDSON speaks of it as very
abundant from Canada to Great Bear Lake, latitude 65 degrees.
     To the west it exists along the banks of the Ohio, but we were unable to
find it in any part of the region lying between the Mississippi and the Rocky

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     We are fully aware of the difficulty of finding characters by which the
various species of this genus may be distinguished.  We cannot speak positively
of WILSON'S diminutive figure of the Meadow-Mouse, (American Ornithology, vol.
vi., plate 50, fig. 3; description given, p. 59, in the article on the
barn-owl,) but the accurate description of it by ORD, which is creditable to him
as a naturalist, cannot possibly apply to any other species than this.  It is
the most common arvicola near Philadelphia, and no part of the description will
apply to either of the only two other species of this genus existing in that
     We had an opportunity, at the museum of Zurich, to compare specimens of
this species with the campagnol or meadow-mouse of Europe, Mus agrestis of
LINNAEUS, and Arvicola vulgaris of DESMAREST, to which GODMAN, (Nat. Hist., vol.
ii., p. 88,) referred it.  There is a strong general resemblance, but the
species are distinct.  The European animal has longer and narrower ears,
protruding beyond the fur; its tail is shorter, and the body is more ferruginous
on the upper surface than in our species.
     In the last work published on American quadrupeds, the writer endeavours to
show that this species, (which he has named A. hirsutus,) differs from A.
Pennsylvanica.  The following remarks are made at p. 87:--"Upon the suggestion
that it might possibly be the Pennsylvanicus Of ORD and HARLAN, it was shown to
both those gentlemen, who pronounced it to be totally distinct."  To this we
would observe, without the slightest design of undervaluing the scientific
attainments of the respectable naturalists here referred to, that it was taxing
their memories rather too much, to expect them, after the lapse of fifteen or
twenty years, during which time their minds had been directed to other pursuits,
to be as well qualified to decide on a species as they were when they first
described it, (with all the specimens before them,) and when the whole subject
was fresh in their minds.  In regard to Dr. HARLAN, he candidly wrote in answer
to our inquiries respecting this and several other species, that having been
long engaged in other investigations, and never having preserved specimens, he
could not rely on his present judgment with any decree of accuracy.  His
description, moreover, being contained in two and a half lines, cannot be
depended on, and is equally applicable to a considerable number of species.  In
regard to referring subjects, requiring such minute investigation, to the
memory, when the period at which the specimens were examined has long passed, we
have in mind the reply Of JOHNSON, the great philologist, to an inquiry for
information in regard to the derivation of a word, and of Newton, when asked for
a solution of some knotty point in the higher branches of science:  the former
referred the inquirer to his "Dictionary,"--the latter, to his "Principia."
The description of Mr. ORD is full and accurate, and by this we are quite
willing to abide.  We, moreover, are perfectly satisfied, that when that
gentleman has an opportunity of comparing specimens of the several species found
in the vicinity of Philadelphia with his own description, he will refer the
species described and figured as A. hirsutus to his A. Pennsylvanica.
     The arvicola Albo-rufescens of EMMONS is evidently a variety of this
species.  We obtained a specimen from a nest in the northern part of New-York,
which answered in every particular to his description.  From the same nest two
others were taken, with white rings round their necks, and three marked like the
common Arvicola Pennsylvanica, differing in no respect from Arvicola hirsutus.