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What Is a Jumping Mouse?

By Angie Bates
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A jumping mouse is any one of five species of mice in the Dipodidae family, whose primary mode of transportation is jumping. In addition to larger hindquarters and back feet compared to other mouse species, jumping mice have long tails which they use for balance. Depending on the species, a jumping mouse may cover up to 8 feet (2.4 m) in a single jump. All but one species is found in North America. Eozapus setchuanus, or the Chinese jumping mouse, is found in Asia.

The meadow, the Pacific, and the western jumping mouse all look quite similar and are sometimes referred to collectively as the meadow species. Each has yellowish sides and a white belly. The meadow, Zapus hudsonius, has a more grayish-brown back, whereas the western, Zapus princeps and the Pacific Zapus trinotatus have darker backs. There is also a subspecies of the meadow jumping mouse, Zapus hudsonius preblei, that has more orange in its coat.

The smallest of this group, the meadow, averages between 7.1 and 8.7 inches (179—220 mm). The western is the largest, reaching between 8 and 10.2 inches (204—260 mm). At least half of the measured length of a jumping mouse is actually its tail. For example, in a 10.2 inch (260 mm) mouse, 5.2 inches (148 mm) of that length is tail. These mice generally weigh between 0.4 and 1.3 ounces (12—37 g).

Both Pacific and western jumping mice live in mountainous regions, usually under the cover of trees or long grass. Occasionally western jumping mice are found in marshes. As its name suggests, meadow jumping mice live in meadows and fields. In the winter, the meadow mouse hibernates in underground nests below the frost level.

The meadow jumping mouse eats a variety of fruits and vegetables, but its primary food source consists of seeds and grasses. Like the meadow, the Pacific and western species eat seeds but also consume arthropods. The primary predators of jumping mice are birds of prey, larger rodents, snakes, domestic cats, foxes, and coyotes.

The fourth North America species is the woodland jumping mouse. Generally living in hardwood and coniferous forests, the woodland species, Napaeozapus insignis, can be distinguished from the other three by its white tail tip as well as its orange sides and nearly black back. Unlike the other species, the woodland often walks, though it can jump considerable distances. The woodland jumping mouse eats seeds and some insects, but primarily consumes fungus, which also provides much of its water needs.

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