Overview

Comprehensive Description

Diversity

Murinae, the Old World rats and mice, is the largest subfamily of muroid rodents. There are an astonishingly diverse 561 species in this subfamily, which are divided among 126 genera in 29 divisions.

  • Musser, G., M. Carleton. 2005. Superfamily Muroidea. D Wilson, D Reeder, eds. Mammal Species of the World. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Distribution

Geographic Range

Rats and mice are native to the Ethiopian, Palearctic, and Oriental regions, including Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, the Middle East, India, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, the Indo-Malayan region, the Philippines, New Guinea, Australia, and Tasmania. In addition, murines have been introduced around the world by humans, and now have a virtually cosmopolitan distribution.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Introduced ); australian (Native ); oceanic islands (Introduced )

Other Geographic Terms: cosmopolitan

  • Carleton, M., G. Musser. 1984. Muroid rodents. Pp. 289-379 in S Anderson, J Jones Jr., eds. Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

There is an incredibly diverse range of body types in this subfamily. Murines can be shrew-like, gerbil-like, vole-like, gopher-like, squirrel-like, mouse-like, and rat-like, with many variations on each body plan. Some are small and gracile, like tiny African pygmy mice (Mus minutoides), which are less than 9 cm long and weigh in at under 5 grams, and some are large and robust, like southern Luzon giant cloud rats (Phloeomys cumingi), which grow to over 48 cm long and weigh over 2 kg. Murines usually have prominent ears, and their tails can be long or short. The fur is smooth and silky, woolly, short and velvety, coarse and thin, or spiny. The tail is naked to bushy, and is prehensile or semi-prehensile in some species. The ears can be either scantily-haired or furry, and the soles of the feet are hairless. The fur may be various shades of brown and gray on the dorsal surface, and is usually white, buff, or grayish on the ventral surface. Some species have dorsal stripes. The tail is usually monocolored but is sharply bicolored in some. Polymorphism is present in some species, with two or more color morphs living in sympatry. Male murines have large ventral sebaceous glands. There are no cheek pouches. The feet are cursorially adapted in most, and can be either short and wide or long and narrow. In some species, the feet are webbed. The front feet each have four digits that bear claws plus a stubby thumb bearing a nail. All five digits on each hind foot bear claws in most genera. Some arboreal species have semiopposable thumbs.

The dental formula is 1/1, 0/0, 0/0, 3/3 = 16 in most murine genera. The   incisors can be opisthodont, orthodont, or proodont. Most have ungrooved incisors. The   molars are rooted and are not evergrowing. The molars range from   brachydont to   hypsodont, and the third molars are always smaller than the first and second molars. Most murines have three lingual cusps on the upper molars, giving a   triserial cusp arrangement; there is always at least an anterolingual cusp on the second upper molars. In addition, the lower molars usually have labial cusplets. Murines vary widely in skull characteristics, and the diversity is so great that no synapomorphies of the skull can be identified, except of the lack of a sphenofrontal foramen or squamosoalisphenoid groove. A skeletal characteristic that all murine genera share is the presence of a prominent neural spine on the second thoracic vertebra. Diploid chromosome numbers for murines range from 25 to 68.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry ; polymorphic

  • Hubbard, C. 1972. Observations on the life histories and behavior of some small rodents from Tanzania. Zoologica Africana, 7(2): 419-449.
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Ecology

Habitat

Murines occupy a wide variety of boreal, temperate, subtropical, and tropical habitats, including: coniferous and deciduous forests, subtropical broadleaf forests, tropical rainforests, monsoon forests, savannahs, steppes, grasslands, scrub forests, alpine meadows, deserts, rocky outcrops, river valleys, marshes, swamps, lakes, rivers, streams, agricultural fields, cities, and towns. Murines span a greater elevational range than any other muroid subfamily; they have been found in high mountains at more than 4,000 meters, and in mine shafts more than 500 meters below the earth's surface.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; taiga ; desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp ; bog

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural ; riparian

  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, vol. 2. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

As a group, murines consume an astonishing array of food items, including (but not limited to) roots, grains, leaves, shoots, seeds, berries, nuts, fungi, fruits, insects, earthworms, arachnids, fish, small birds and eggs, turtles, lizards, frogs, mussels, carrion, and even household items such as glue, paste, and soap. Individual murine species range from dietary generalists that will eat just about anything to specialist herbivores and specialist carnivores. Many murine species cache their food in burrows or crevices for later use.

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Piscivore , Eats eggs, Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods, Molluscivore , Scavenger ); herbivore (Folivore , Frugivore , Granivore ); omnivore ; mycophage

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Murines are essential components of many ecosystems. They have roles as seed dispersers, pollinators (Johnson et al. 2001), predators, and/or prey. Not all ecosystem roles are positive, however. Some murine species have been introduced to areas where they were previously absent, and they have devastated ecosystems by outcompeting or feeding on native wildlife. A few murine species have developed a commensal relationship with humans, and, especially in urban areas, rely on human-produced waste to survive. In turn, various parasites use murines as hosts, including ticks and mites, fleas, lice, bot flies, nematodes, tapeworms, and trypanosomes.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; pollinates; keystone species

Species Used as Host:

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • Roberts, L., J. Janovy Jr.. 2000. Foundations of Parasitology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Johnson, S., A. Pauw, J. Midgely. 2001. Rodent pollination in the African lily Massonia depressa (Hyacinthaceae). American Journal of Botany, 88(10): 1768-1773.
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Predation

Murines are a food source for a myriad of predators belonging to almost every extant vertebrate class, including mammalian carnivores (such as foxes, cats, and weasels), birds of prey (such as hawks, eagles, and owls), non-bird reptiles (such as snakes and large lizards), amphibians (such as large frogs and toads), and even large fish (Cochran and Cochran 1999).

Because they are up against such a large array of predators, murines have evolved numerous strategies for avoiding being eaten. Many are only active after dark, when diurnal predators (like snakes and hawks) may have a difficult time hunting them. Murines often seek refuge in burrows or crevices that are too small for predators to enter. In addition, many rely on their versatility to escape predators, and can run, leap, climb or swim in a pinch, even if they do not normally do so. Murines tend to have neutral-colored coats that blend in with the natural backgrounds of their habitats, affording them some degree of camouflage. Finally, like most wild mammals, murines often bite viciously when attacked and may inflict enough surprise or damage that predators release them.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

  • Cochran, P., J. Cochran. 1999. Predation on a meadow jumping mouse, Zapus hudsonius, and a house mouse, Mus musculus, by brown trout, Salmo trutta. Canadian Field-Naturalist, 113 (4): 684-684.
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Known prey organisms

Murinae (rat) preys on:
coconut

Based on studies in:
Polynesia (Reef)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • W. A. Niering, Terrestrial ecology of Kapingamarangi Atoll, Caroline Islands, Ecol. Monogr. 33(2):131-160, from p. 157 (1963).
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Murines perceive the world using vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. The relative importance of these senses varies among species and relates to each species' lifestyle. For example, murines that forage under the cover of darkness might rely more on smell, touch, and hearing than on vision, while the opposite might be true for diurnal murines. The range of murine perception often surpasses that of humans; for example, some murines can hear ultrasounds, as youngsters that have been separated from their mothers often emit ultrasonic calls, to which mothers quickly respond (Ehret 2005). In general, murine communication involves a combination of chemical, tactile, visual, and auditory cues--the relative importance of which, again, varies among species. As is the case for many mammals, pheromones play a large role in intraspecific interactions in murines, allowing individuals to attract and locate mates, assess each other's status in the dominance hierarchy, or to synchronize their reproductive cycles (Thompson et al. 2004). Males of many territorial species demarcate their boundaries by scent-marking with their large ventral sebaceous glands.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic ; ultrasound

  • Ehret, G. 2005. Infant rodent ultrasounds - A gate to the understanding of sound communication. Behavior Genetics, 35 (1): 19-29.
  • Thompson, R., B. Robertson, A. Napier, K. Wekesa. 2004. Sex-specific responses to urinary chemicals by the mouse vomeronasal organ. Chemical Senses, 29 (9): 749-754.
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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Murines usually do not live more than a few months in the wild, and those that do rarely live to be three years old. In captivity, however, some murines may live nearly a decade.

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Reproduction

Most murines have a polygynandrous mating system, with each male and female only associating for the brief time required for copulation and each individual having multiple mates. A few species are monogamous, at least within one breeding season, and males stay with their mates and help to raise their young.

Mating System: monogamous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Many murines are prolific breeders. Females of some species are able to breed when they are just a few weeks old and give birth to litters of 7, 10, or even 13 young after a gestation that lasts less than a month. Many experience a postpartum estrus so that they give birth again shortly after weaning the first litter, and they may have ten or more litters per year. This incredible reproductive potential is, in part, what contributes to the success of this subfamily. However, most murines, while more prolific than many mammals, have a somewhat lower reproductive output. Litter sizes of one to four young are common for many species, and the young reach sexual maturity after three months. Many are seasonal breeders, and as a result, they produce three or four litters per year (instead of nine or ten) when the climate is favorable.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous ; post-partum estrous

Female murines, like all mammals, provide their young with milk before the young are able to eat solid food. Many murines build nests--the size, shape and location of which varies among species--in which they raise their young. Yet females of other species simply allow their babies to clamp on to their teats and then carry their young around with them. The time to weaning is relatively short, as young murines grow and develop quickly. Both altricial and precocial murine species are known. Male parental care is rare, but not unheard of, in this group. For example, male four-striped grass mice (Rhabdomys pumilio) spend just as much time in the nest with their offspring as females do, grooming their young and retrieving them if they stray (Schradin and Pillay 2003). Most murine young do not associate with their parents for long, leaving to seek their own territories and mates shortly after they are weaned.

Parental Investment: altricial ; precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, vol. 2. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Schradin, C., N. Pillay. 2003. Paternal care in the social and diurnal striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio): laboratory and field evidence. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 117(3): 317-324.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 5342
Specimens with Sequences: 5659
Specimens with Barcodes: 4231
Species: 227
Species With Barcodes: 201
Public Records: 2442
Public Species: 152
Public BINs: 182
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Barcode data

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Conservation

Conservation Status

The subfamily Murinae contains some of the most common species on Earth--the house mouse (Mus musculus) and Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) come to mind--but it also contains a large number of species with small populations and restricted ranges. In fact, 41% of the species in this subfamily are on the IUCN's Red List of threatened species. This includes 20 critically endangered species, 41 endangered species, 66 vulnerable species, 13 near threatened species, 53 lower risk species, and 25 species that cannot be classified due to lack of information. Another 13 species are presumed to have gone extinct in recent years. The largest threat to most of these species is also the largest threat to the Earth's biodiversity overall: human-induced habitat loss and degradation. Specific conservation measures have not been enacted for many species, but for some, research is underway to better understand their ecology and for a few, protected areas have been established to offset the effects of habitat loss.

  • IUCN, 2004. "2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed June 08, 2005 at www.redlist.org.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Although most murines have no direct impact whatsover on humans, those that do cause enough damage and suffering to give the entire group a bad name. Every year, rats and mice cause billions of dollars worth of property damage worldwide by gnawing on structures and on electrical wires, damaging buildings and starting fires. They are common household pests, raiding kitchens and granaries and causing much crop damage when they are abundant. In addition, they are carriers of numerous human diseases, from mild cases of food poisoning, to murine typhus and the highly deadly plague, which has had an enormous impact on human history, wiping out a quarter of Europe's population in a single 14th century epidemic.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); crop pest; household pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Murines have an immense positive economic impact on human populations. First, some murine species are kept as pets, and some are sold by pet stores as food for other types of pets, such as snakes and lizards. Also, murines have been used as model organisms in laboratories for years, and their contribution to scientific and medical research cannot be overstated. Throughout history, humans have resorted to eating rats during times of famine to avoid starvation (although this practice probably contributes greatly to the spread of disease), and some murine species are prized as food or for their pelts and hunted regularly.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material; research and education

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Wikipedia

Murinae

The Old World rats and mice, part of the subfamily Murinae in the family Muridae, comprise at least 519 species. Members of this subfamily are called murines. This subfamily is larger than all mammal families except the Cricetidae and Muridae, and is larger than all mammal orders except the bats and the remainder of the rodents.

Description[edit]

The Murinae are native to Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. They are the only terrestrial placental mammals native to Australia. They have also been introduced to all continents except Antarctica, and are serious pest animals. This is particularly true in island communities where they have contributed to the endangerment and extinction of many native animals.

Two prominent murine human commensals have become vital laboratory animals. The brown rat and house mouse are both used as medical subjects.

The murines have a distinctive molar pattern that involves three rows of cusps instead of two, the primitive pattern seen most frequently in muroid rodents.

Fossils[edit]

The first known appearance of the Murinae in the fossil record is about 14 million years ago with the fossil genus Antemus. Antemus is thought to derive directly from Potwarmus, which has a more primitive tooth pattern. Likewise, two genera, Progonomys and Karnimata are thought to derive directly from Antemus. Progonomys is thought to be the ancestor of Mus and relatives, while Karnimata is thought to lead to Rattus and relatives. All of these fossils are found in the well-preserved and easily dated Siwalik fossil beds of Pakistan. The transition from Potwarmus to Antemus to Progonomys and Karnimata is considered an excellent example of anagenic evolution.

Taxonomy[edit]

Most of the Murinae have been poorly studied. Some genera have been grouped, such as the hydromyine water rats, conilurine or pseudomyine Australian mice, or the phloeomyine Southeast Asian forms. No tribal level taxonomy has been attempted for the complete subfamily. It appears as if genera from southeast Asian islands and Australia may be early offshoots compared to mainland forms. The vlei rats in the genera Otomys and Parotomys are often placed in a separate subfamily, Otomyinae, but have been shown to be closely related to African murines in spite of their uniqueness.

Three genera, Uranomys, Lophuromys, and Acomys were once considered to be murines, but were found to be more closely related to gerbils through molecular phylogenetics. They have been assigned a new subfamily status, Deomyinae.

List of Species[edit]

As of 2005, the Murinae contain 129 genera in 584 species. Musser and Carleton (2005) divided the Murinae into 29 genus divisions. They treated the Otomyinae as a separate subfamily, but all molecular analyses conducted to date have supported their inclusion in the Murinae as relatives of African genera (Michaux et al., 2001; Jansa and Weksler, 2004; Steppan et al., 2004; 2005; Jansa et al., 2006). In a recent expedition in the Philippines, 7 more Apomys mice were added and the genus was proposed to split into two subgenera - Apomys and Megapomys, based on morphological and cytochrome b DNA sequence (Heaney et al., 2011).

SUBFAMILY MURINAE - old world rats and mice

References[edit]

  • Chevret, P., C. Denys, J.-J. Jaeger, J. Michaux, and F.M. Catzeflis. 1993. Molecular evidence that the spiny mouse (Acomys) is more closely related to gerbils (Gerbillinae) than to the true mice (Murinae). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 90:3433-3436.
  • Heaney, L., Balete, D., Rickart, E., Alviola, P., Duya, M., Duya, M., Veluz, M., VandeVrede, L., & Steppan, S. (2011). Chapter 1: Seven New Species and a New Subgenus of Forest Mice (Rodentia: Muridae: Apomys) from Luzon Island Fieldiana Life and Earth Sciences, 2, 1-60 doi:10.3158/2158-5520-2.1.1
  • Jacobs, L.L. 1978. Fossil rodents (Rhizomyidae and Muridae) from Neogene Siwalik deposits, Pakistan. Bulletin of the Museum of Northern Arizona, 52: 1-103.
  • Jansa, S., F. K. Barker, and L. R. Heaney. 2006. The pattern and timing of diversification of Philippine endemic rodents: evidence from mitochondrial and nuclear gene sequences. Systematic Biology, 55:73-88.
  • Jansa, S.A. and M. Weksler. Phylogeny of muroid rodents: relationships within and among major lineages as determined by IRBP gene sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 31:256-276.
  • McKenna, M.C. and S. K. Bell. 1997. Classification of Mammals above the Species Level. Columbia University Press, New York.
  • Michaux, J., A. Reyes, and F. Catzeflis. 2001. Evolutionary history of the most speciose mammals: molecular phylogeny of muroid rodents. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 17:280-293.
  • Musser, G.G. and M. D. Carleton. 1993. Family Muridae. pp. 501–755 in Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. D.E. Wilson and D.M. Reeder eds. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.
  • Musser, G. G. and L. R. Heaney. 2006. Philippine rodents: Definitions of Tarsomys and Limnomys plus a preliminary assessment of phylogenetic patterns among native Philippine murines (Murinae, Muridae). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 211:1–138.
  • Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Vol. 2. Johns Hopkins University Press, London.
  • Steppan, S.J., R.A. Adkins, and J. Anderson. 2004. Phylogeny and divergence date estimates of rapid radiations in muroid rodents based on multiple nuclear genes. Systematic Biology, 53:533-553.
  • Steppan, S. J., R. M. Adkins, P. Q. Spinks, and C. Hale. 2005. Multigene phylogeny of the Old World mice, Murinae, reveals distinct geographic lineages and the declining utility of mitochondrial genes compared to nuclear genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 37:370-388.
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