Species Profile

Western Harvest Mouse megalotis subspecies

Scientific Name: Reithrodontomys megalotis megalotis
Other/Previous Names: Western Harvest Mouse (British Columbia population)
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: British Columbia
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2007
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Western Harvest Mouse megalotis subspecies

Western Harvest Mouse megalotis subspecies Photo 1

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Description

The Western Harvest Mouse is one of the smallest mice in North America; it averages 13.6 cm in length, half of which is its tail. This brownish mouse has a dark dorsal stripe that runs from forehead to tail. The hindfeet are white, its flanks and cheeks are a buff-coloured and the fur on its belly can be white to deep grey. Its long, sparsely-haired tail is grey above, whitish below. The prominent ears are hairless. This rodent is easily confused with the Deer Mouse and the House Mouse, two larger and more common species. However, the juvenile Deer Mouse is most often grey in colour and the House Mouse's tail is completely bare.

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Distribution and Population

The Western Harvest Mouse is widespread throughout western North America, from southern Canada down to central Mexico. In Canada, it is restricted to the grasslands of south-central British Columbia and southern Alberta. The Alberta and British Columbia populations, separated by the Rocky Mountains, are of the dychei and megalotis subspecies, respectively. In British Columbia, the Western Harvest Mouse megalotis subspecies occurs throughout the Okanagan Valley, as far north as Vernon, and in the Similkameen Valley, as far north as Keremeos. The mouse has not been captured in central Okanagan near Kelowna, suggesting that the Vernon population is isolated from populations to the south. The species is also absent from adjacent valleys, including the Thompson River and Kettle River valleys. However, low trapping success makes the absence of records an unreliable means of assessing distribution. In contrast to the US, where the Western Harvest Mouse is a dominant member of grassland small mammal communities, this species is rather rare in Canada, typically comprising less than 10% of such communities. However, population densities as high as 80 individuals/hectare have been reported in British Columbia. Western Harvest Mouse populations appear to peak in late fall or early winter and decline to low levels in midsummer. There are no data available on population size or trends at either a provincial or national level.

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Habitat

Little is known about the detailed habitat requirements of the Western Harvest Mouse, but the species is reported to prefer habitats characterized by thick herbaceous cover of tall grasses or shrubs. The British Columbia population appears restricted to very hot, dry valley bottoms where bitterbrush and big sagebrush grow. It is found in various habitats, including dry gullies with dense shrub cover that border grasslands, old fields, apple orchards, Ponderosa pine forests and grassy areas bordering cultivated fields. Although preferring herbaceous cover in habitats without heavy grazing, the Western Harvest Mouse megalotis species is found in grazed habitats in British Columbia, as long as there is enough cover provided by shrubs such as bitterbrush or sagebrush. Since the 1930s, the extent of available habitat for the Western Harvest Mouse in the Okanagan Valley has been declining because of the combined effects of cattle grazing, agriculture and urbanization. Its principal natural habitat, as well as old fields, are declining. Furthermore, old apple orchards where the mouse has been caught are being converted into vineyards. The disappearance rate of its habitat is accelerating.

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Biology

In British Columbia, the breeding season extends from March through November. Females can breed at four months of age and have up to five litters per season with an average litter size of three. The Western Harvest Mouse builds a small grass nest on the ground or in shrubs up to 1 m above ground. It does not build burrows, but sometimes uses burrows of other small mammals. The Western Harvest Mouse appears to be able to enter torpor to cope with cold temperatures. This dormant state, where vital functions slow down, may be essential to the survival of Canadian populations. Some researchers speculate that they hibernate, although this does not appear to occur in southern British Columbia as this species was observed throughout the year. This nocturnal mouse is omnivorous; it mainly feeds on seeds and insects, such as caterpillars and moths, but also on new plant growth and flowers. In Canada, birds of the Strigidae family, such as the Northern Saw-whet Owl, are the only officially confirmed predators of the Western Harvest Mouse, but other likely predators include prairie rattlesnakes, hawks, jays, shrikes, raccoons, foxes, weasels, skunks, badgers and coyotes. Although the Western Harvest Mouse can live naturally for 18 months, most do not live past six months. The Western Harvest Mouse is sometimes in competition with rodents of similar size. In British Columbia, the Montane Vole may be an important competitor.

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Threats

Habitat fragmentation and loss caused by grazing, cultivation or other agricultural activities, along with urban development, are likely the most significant threats to populations in Canada. The Western Harvest Mouse's habitat is mostly threatened by cattle and horse grazing, agriculture and urbanization. In British Columbia, conversion of grasslands to orchards, cultivated fields, and more recently, urban development and vineyards, has eliminated large areas of shrub-steppe habitats important to this species. The use of roadside habitats and habitats along cultivated fields may be particularly important for the dispersal of this species among suitable habitat fragments. The Western Harvest Mouse is susceptible to habitat change, such as the disappearance of herbaceous cover and food, resulting from fire, but populations can recover quickly, provided there is suitable unburnt habitat nearby. The creation of new roads may represent a significant barrier to dispersal and movement of the Western Harvest Mouse. Finally, the use of pesticides to control vole and pocket gopher populations in old field and orchard habitats in British Columbia may have significant impacts on local populations of the Western Harvest Mouse. However, orchards are not the species' preferred habitat; thus, mortality from poisoning is assumed to be low.

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Protection

Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Western Harvest Mouse is protected under the Wildlife Act of British Columbia. Suitable habitat for the British Columbia population is likely to occur in several protected areas (including parks, ecological reserves, and land trusts) located throughout the Okanagan and Similkameen river valleys. A total of 63 000 hectares of suitable habitat is protected in the province. The British Columbia population is likely found at the Agriculture Canada Summerland Research Station, which is part of the federal lands protected under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

9 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Western harvest mouse megalotis and dychei subspecies (2007)

    Western harvest mouse megalotis subspecies designated Special Concern in April 1994 and in April 2007. Last assessment based on an update status report. Western harvest mouse dychei subspecies considered in April 1994 and placed in the Data Deficient category. Re-examined in April 2007 and designated Endangered. Last assessment based on an update status report.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Western Harvest Mouse megalotis subspecies (2007)

    This subspecies has a limited range, and a small extent of occurrence and area of occupancy. However, the extent of occurrence and area of occupancy appear to be constant. Its principal native habitat in the Okanagan as well as old fields is declining. Furthermore, old apple orchards where the mouse has been caught are being converted to vineyards. Dispersal distance is limited and the likelihood of rescue effect is small. Extensive sampling has revealed the occurrence of the mouse at more localities. 63,000 hectares of suitable habitat is protected.

Management Plans

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 (2007)

    2007 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act - Terrestrial Species (2008)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 25, 2008 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 27, 2009 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update March 17, 2017