The Tail

We have mice in the kitchen. We don't like the turds, or the bites taken out of the bread, or the mouse pee smell.

When I used to have a cat, he was great at catching mice. He would stay up all night, motionless, waiting by a mouse hole or anywhere he saw mouselike movement. In the morning I would find their carcasses at the kitchen doorway ("here's dinner! aren't you proud!") and I would praise him lavishly. In one apartment I even painted little mouse symbols on the wall by his food dish, one for each mouse, just like fighter plane pilots would paint symbols of their conquests by the cockpit. Frankie must have learned it from his mom at a very early age, because we didn't have mice in the house I lived in when he was a baby, and I hear that cats don't usually mouse very well if they're not taught.

But we don't currently have a cat, and we're soft-hearted. Glue traps ook us out. So we put out a no-kill mouse trap called a Ketch-All. It's used a lot in industrial, food service and other businesses, and it works great.

Anyway, one night last week when I picked my Ketch-All up to see if we had any new residents, there was a scaly tail hanging out of one side and immediate loud squeaking (apparently because the movement pinched the tail). Okay, maybe I did some of the squeaking.

I took these pictures of the tail hanging out for my amusement and that of others. As a side note, perhaps someone will tell me if mice always have tails that are nicely furred like the rest of them, if they can sometimes be just hairy and scaly, or if maybe a furry tail could become hairy and scaly because it has a horrible disease that I've now inevitably got.

Click on either image to view the full-size version, though it may not really help. It's from a cheap digital camera that doesn't do very well with closeups. For scale, the trap is described as 5 1/2" H x 9" L x 7 1/4" W.

Now I had to figure out how to get the tail back in the trap with its owner.

The tail is sticking out of the tunnel that the mouse traverses, but the mouse is in the holding area. The mouse (or baby rat, or gerbil, or leprechaun) is "flipped" on a spring-loaded platform in the center of the tunnel into the holding area, which is the part with the air/viewing holes that you can see on the right in the picture. The tunnel is actually tee-shaped, with the flipper blocking the vertical of the tee until the mechanism is tripped by the victim's weight. Then the flipper rotates, throwing the little unfortunate into the holding area and putting itself in position to catch the next tunnel traveler.

It wasn't that the mouse was not completely flipped and that its tail was left behind. If that were the case, the tail would have been in the middle of the tunnel. Instead it was at the very edge of the tunnel, far from the flipper.

There was a small gap at the edge of the holding area adjoining the tunnel. The tail must have gone small-end-first into that opening. As the rodent backed up for whatever reason, the tail went as far as it could go and got stuck.

My initial plan of grabbing the rodent and pulling him out of the trap while simultaneously skinning its tail, squishing its guts out, getting plague-infested fleas on me and getting bitten by an animal going through a painful and gory death seemed suboptimal. Prying the opening a little wider temporarily with a screwdriver and tapping on the top of the trap to get the little bugger's attention was less dramatic but ultimately successful. It shifted position and the tail went back in the holding area.

Once I got the rodent and its tail unstuck, I took the trap down the street and opened it up as at an abandoned house and lot which is separated from other houses by a parking lot and the street. There was still some squeaking going on, and while mouse pee usually kind of stinks up the trap (the scent of fear?), it was particularly skunky that night.

It turns out there were two rodents in the trap. The Ketch-All instructions say that having one mouse in there often attracts others, and this seems to be true, as it's not uncommon to find two mice rather than just one in the trap. But I wonder if some of the noise they were making might have been because of interspecies rivalry. One of them was pretty big but not really adult rat-sized. It was too dark to tell if it was the bigger one that had the scaly-looking tail.

From descriptions of rat and mouse behavior I've read, I wouldn't be surprised if the mouse was terrorizing the rat. Mice are supposed to be way more aggressive. The baby rat might have been trying to back away from the mouse and unintentionally extruded its tail through the gap in the corner of the holding area. Or maybe one mouse or rat escape technique is to go tail-first.

We do have rats outside -- we live on the waterfront, in a city, so this is to be expected. They make nighttime barbecuing fun. So it wouldn't be surprising to find that a baby rat came in the house to forage.

The Ketch-All site has some cool accessories including a plastic clear view end plate and clear view lid, which would make checking the trap easier. And don't they look cute peeking out like that?

But they also encourage use of a drowning attachment and they sell sticky traps to put in the trap. Eeeeaugh, no thanks. A cow orker says that it's common practice to make a mouse trap with a length of tubing and a closed garbage can or large bucket. Cut a hole in the can or bucket lid just big enough to accommodate the tubing, insert the tube in the hole, and run the tube to the floor. Put several inches of water in the bucket or can. The mice can't help going into the tunnel. "It's their nature," he says. They then follow the tube to the top and fall in and drown. He used this principle, sans water, to catch a pet hamster that had gone AWOL in his house.