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The easiest distinguishing feature is the small size of the house mouse at 3-10 cm long.
However, a mouse can be confused with a young rat.
The brown rat is larger than the ship rat and they have the following differing body features:
tail shorter than length of head + body;
paler colour underneath the tail;
small hairy ears;
large thin ears;
tail longer than head and body.
Both rats and mice are omnivorous but the brown rat and house mouse prefer cereals, while black rats prefer fruit and foods with a high moisture content.
Brown rats usually live on the ground and burrows. They are usually spotted throughout buildings, in sewer systems and outdoors. Their burrowing can cause extensive damage to sewers. The brown rat tends to walk on the pads of the feet and the surfaces that it travels along show continuous smudges from the oily fur.
Black rats are mainly restricted to buildings around ports and in ships in temperate countries (hence the name ‘ship rat’). They are agile and a good climbers, nesting high up under roofs. In warmer countries, where they originate, black rats will nest in trees, especially in woodland and orchards. Black rats tend to walk on their toes and the surfaces that the ship rat travels along show separated smudges.
Mice usually lives on the ground and nests in burrows, but is agile and can climb. In heavy infestations, grease from the body combined with dirt and urine can build into small pillars. These can remain for a long time, so may not indicate a current infestation. A mouse obviously has a smaller footprint than a rat.
The droppings of the three animals differ in size and shape, according to the body size. Rat droppings can often been mistaken for mouse droppings and those from a cockroach.
Brown rat droppings are wide and are dark brown colour. They are typically found in a tapered, spindle shape – resembling a large grain of rice.
Black rat droppings are long and thin, and are smaller than brown rat droppings. Black rat droppings are more regular in form with a banana like curve and pointed ends.
Mouse droppings are approximately 3-8mm in length, and are often found scattered randomly during an infestation. Mouse droppings are granular in shape and black in colour and can be found near nesting areas.
Mice reach sexual maturity earlier and produce larger litters at a more frequent rate than rats. The new borne of all three rodents are blind, hairless and completely dependent on the mother for feeding and protection.