Mammal Species of the World
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Peromyscus gossypinus is native to North America and can be found in the southeastern United States as far west as eastern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma, and as far north as southeastern Virginia and southern Illinois Within this range, however, the Appalachian Mountains disrupt this species' distribution.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
- Wilson, D., S. Ruff. 1999. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.
- Wolfe, J., A. Linzey. June 1977. Peromyscus gossypinus. Mammalian Species, 70: 1-5.
endemic to a single nation
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: Southeastern U.S., from southeastern Virginia (Handley 1991) and Great Dismal and Chowan swamps, North Carolina (Boone and Laerm 1993), to Florida, west to Texas and Oklahoma, and north in the Mississippi Valley to Missouri, Illinois (Feldhamer et al. 1998), and Kentucky.
Peromyscus gossypinus is one of the largest members of the genus Peromyscus in the US, and can be recognized by its dark color. The dorsal pelage of this species consists of two different types of hair: short, dark brown hair that covers the majority of the body, and longer, darker hair that covers the middle of the dorsum. The hair on the feet and ventral side is white. The tail is sparsely haired and relatively short, compared to other rodents.
The top of the skull is flattened and there is little or no postorbital process. The dental formula is 1/1, 0/0, 0/0, 3/3.
These mice measure 142 to 206 mm in length, of which 55 to 97 mm is the tail. They can weigh between 17 and 46 g.
Range mass: 17 to 46 g.
Range length: 142 to 206 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; heterothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Length: 21 cm
Weight: 46 grams
Size in North America
Range: 142-206 mm
Range: 17-46 g
Peromyscus gossypinus can be found in a variety of habitats, ranging from swamplands to much drier sand dunes. Generally, these mice reside on the forest floor, using hollowed logs, vines, and brushes as shelter. One study concluded that the primary habitiat of cotton mice is underground tortoise burrows, presumably for the stable microclimate they provide.
This species is common in wooded areas along the edges of streams and in areas of potential flooding. However, this species can also be found in areas of less dense vegetation, such as fields cleared by humans, old buildings, and the previously mentioned sand dunes.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: suburban ; riparian
- Frank, P., J. Layne. 1992. Nests and Daytime Refugia of Cotton Mice (Peromyscus gossypinus) and Golden Mice (Ochrotomys nutalli) in South-Central Florida. The American Midland Naturalist, 127: 21-30.
Habitat and Ecology
Cotton mice breed throughout the year in Florida and Texas, with a decline in summer. They breed March-October in the north. Litter size is 1-7 (average 3-5). Gestation lasts 23 days (non lactating) or 30 days (lactating). Weaning usually occurs by the third or fourth week. Individuals produce up to several litters per year. They sexually mature in 1-2 months. They live usually less than one year, infrequently up to about two years.
Home range is 0.2-0.8 ha in different areas. At least in some areas, this species may exclude Peromyscus leucopus. Cotton mice are very opportunistic feeders, with as much as 3/4 of their diet made up of animal matter. They are nocturnal.
Comments: In most areas, prefers bottomland hardwood forests, swamps, and mesic and hydric hammocks but has also been found in margins of cleared fields, old fields, edges of salt savanna, palmetto thickets bordering beaches, dry hammocks, beach dunes, pine flatwoods, upland timber, mixed pine-hardwood forests, pine-turkey oak, sand pine scrub, along rocky bluffs or ledges, in caves, and in little-used buildings (see Wolfe and Linzoy 1977). Probably most common in areas that periodically are inundated. Terrestrial and arboreal. Large logs and stumps are an important habitat component (McCay 2000). In south-central Florida, daytime refuges were primarily in gopher tortoise burrows, also in ground holes and occasionally in hollow tree cavities (Frank and Layne 1992). Young are born in nests in logs, stumps, moss, under loose bark, under brush, or in old buildings; prefers elevated nest sites, as much as 6 m above ground (see Kirkland and Layne 1989, Handley 1991).
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
The food habits of P. gossypinus are numerous and varied. As an omnivore, the cotton mouse feeds on all types of food, from fruits and berries to insects and animal matter. Studies have shown that P. gossypinus is an opportunistic feeder, consuming whatever food is available. Its diet may consist of up to fifty percent animal matter. The cotton mouse primarily feeds at night.
Foods eaten include: seeds, fruits, nuts, insects, arachnids and slugs.
Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks
Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; flowers
Other Foods: fungus
Primary Diet: omnivore
Comments: A very opportunistic feeder, with as much as 3/4 of its diet made up of animal matter.
Because P. gossypinus consumes fruit as part of its diet, it plays a role in the seed dispersal of a variety of plants. As a prey item, populations of cotton mice maybe important to sustaining predator populations. This species may also play a role in the decomposition of other animals because of its scavenging food habits.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
Cotton mouse behavior is influenced by the many predators in its environment. Peromyscus gossypinus is active primarily at night. With darkness protecting it from predators, it is able to move about more freely. This behavior has led to well developed senses of sight, smell, and hearing. This species is also cryptically colored and secretive.
- snakes (Serpentes)
- owls (Strigiformes)
- weasels (Mustela)
- foxes (Canidae)
- striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis)
- bobcats (Lynx rufus)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Home range: 0.2-0.8 ha in different areas. On Key Largo, Florida, average density was estimated at about 16/ha near housing subdivisions and 27/ha distant from subdivisions (Humphrey 1988); density has been was estimated at about 2-10 per ha in various areas elsewhere in range, though a density of 97/ha has been reported for Tennessee. In many areas, peak densities occur in fall and/or winter. At least in some areas, may exclude PEROMYSCUS LEUCOPUS.
Life History and Behavior
The genus Peromyscus uses a combination of vocal, visual, tactile and scent communication. Species in this genus are known to vocalize with high pitched squeaks and buzzes. When excited, mice of this genus have been observed to hit their front feet on the ground, producing a drumming sound.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
As with most species of the genus Peromyscus, the cotton mouse has a relatively short lifespan, averaging four to five months.
Status: wild: 15 (high) months.
Status: wild: 4 to 5 months.
The mating system of this species has not been described. However, information on home ranges indicates that the species is probably polygynous. Males have larger home ranges than females, and their home ranges overlap extensively with those of other males and of females. Females, on the other hand, have restricted home ranges, which may overlap those of males, but not those of other females. It is likely then that males have access to many females during breeding, but females are not likely to have access to many males.
Although this is a reasonable assumption, it should be noted that reproductive patterns within the genus Peromyscus as a whole are highly variable. In some species, like Peromyscus polionotus or Peromyscus californicus, mating appears to be strictly monogamous. In other species, like Peromyscus leucopus and Peromyscus maniculatus, breeding can be polygynous or monogamous, depending upon ecological conditons.
Because P. gossypinus occurs in a great variety of habitats and ecological conditions, it is likely that there is some variability in mating systems. Like their sister taxon, P. leucopus, these mice probably form monogamous pairs under some cirumstances.
During estrous, females of this species show little or no consistancy in their patterns of external signals. Swelling and protrusions of the vaginal area are observed inconsistently. It is likely, therefore, that these signals, used by people to determine the reproductive status of the female, are not that important to males of the species.
Males and females probably use a combination of scent cues and behaviors to determine when another animal is ready to mate.
Mating System: monogamous ; polygynous
Peromyscus gossypinus produces at least 4 litters per breeding season. This species averages a 23 day gestation period in non-lactating females and a 30 day gestation period in lactating females. There is a post-partum estrus in this species, which allows a female to rapidly produce addtional litters.
Peromyscus gossypinus females give birth to their young in a nest constructed of primarily cotton. Births usually occur in the early hours of morning. One specimen, observed in captivity by Pournelle, was extremely active on the night prior to parturition, moving around anxiously and frequently stretching her entire body. Once morning arrived, she had quieted down and slept until the first birth.
Litters of 1 to 7 young have been reported, with the average size being 3.7 young. In the sister species of cotton mice, Peromyscus leucopus, variation in litter size with latitude has been reported. Average litter size increases with lattitude, so that litters are larger in northern populations. Because P. gossypinus is also a very widespread species, it is likely that such litter size variation with lattitude also occurs in this species.
All Peromyscus neonates are altricial. They are born hairless, with their eyes closed, incisors underneath the gumline, and pinnae folded. However, cotton mice develop quickly. The ear pinnae are erect by about 4 days of age. By the age of 5 days, these mice are beginning to have a noticable hair cover on their backs. Around day 7 of life the incisors have broken through the gums. The young are fully furred by the time they are 10 days old, and appear to be alert and able to respond to stimuli in their environment. Most baby cotton mice open their eyes for the first time between the ages of 12 and 14 days.
In terms of their body size, neonates average only 2.19 g at birth. They are about 47 mm in length, and their tails are relativle short, measuring only 11 mm. They double in size within the first two weeks of life, and reach 93% of their adult length by the age of 60 days.
The pelage of baby mice is grayish. They undergo their first molt between the ages of 34 and 40 days, with the adult pelage appearing first on their sides, then on the head and face, and finally spreading back over the back and the rump.
Females in captivity reach reproductive maturity between the age of 43 and 73 days. The average age at which the vagina opens up is 43 days, and the average age of first conception is 73 days. It is difficult to say how this is mirrored in wild populations, because nutrition is different in captivity, as are other social and environmental cues which could affect reproductive development.
Male reproductive maturity is harder to determine. A captive male had sperm in his epididymides at about 45 days of age.
Breeding season in this species may vary geographically. In Florida, these mice breed throughout the year, with a peak in breeding activity in the late autumn and early winter. There is a lull in breeding in the middle of the summer. Although the precise reason for this lull is not known, it may be related to temperature, since male reproductive condition appears to be affected by temperature.
In other parts of the range, P. gossypinus has been seen in breeding condition in spring, summer, and autumn. Records from the Great Smokey Mountains do not show animals in breeding condition during the winter months, but it is not clear whether or not animals were examined at this time.
Breeding interval: Females can produce as many as four litters in a breeding season, with litters born approximately every 30 days.
Breeding season: Year-round in Florida
Range number of offspring: 1 to 7.
Average number of offspring: 3.7.
Range gestation period: 22.86 to 23.34 days.
Average weaning age: 3 to 4 weeks.
Average time to independence: 3-4 weeks.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 43 to 73 days.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 45 (low) days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous ; post-partum estrous
Females care for their young in a nest, providing shelter, warmth, and milk to nourish the altricial neonates. It has been shown that in several species of the genus Peromyscus, the male remains with the female to help care for the young, although no data exist for P. gossypinus.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
- Davis, W., D. Schmidly. 1994. "Cotton mouse (Peromyscus gossypinus)" (On-line). The Mammals of Texas Online. Accessed October 29, 2001 at http://www.nsrl.ttu.edu/tmot1/perogoss.htm.
- Millar, J. 1989. Reproduction and Development. Pp. 169-232 in G Kirkland, J Layne, eds. Advances in the Study of Peromyscus . Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press.
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Pornelle, G. February, 1952. Reproduction and Early Post-Natal Development of the Cotton Mouse, Peromyscus gossypinus gossypinus. Journal of Mammalogy, 33: 1-20.
- Wolfe, J., A. Linzey. June 1977. Peromyscus gossypinus. Mammalian Species, 70: 1-5.
Breeds throughout the year in Florida and Texas, with a decline in summer. Breeds March-October in the north. Litter size is 1-7 (average 3-5). Gestation lasts 23 days (nonlactating) or 30 days (lactating). Weaning usually occurs by the third or fourth week. Individuals produce up to several litters/year. Sexually mature in 1-2 months. Lives usually less than one year, infrequently up to about 2 years.
Peromyscus gossypinus is not considered endangered by any organizations. However, there are several subspecies of P. gossypinus, two of which are considered to have attained a conservation status with various organizations.
Peromyscus gossypinus allapaticola, the Key Largo cotton mouse, has received the Vulnerable D2 status with the IUCN, which means that the population is restricted to an acutely small area of occupancy, in which any disturbance could result in the endangerment or extinction of the subspecies. It is also considered endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Peromyscus gossypinus restrictus, the Chadwick Beach cotton mouse, is extinct, according to the IUCN. This subspecies was native to Florida.
US Federal List: endangered; no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
- Hilton-Taylor, C. 2000. "The 2000 IUCN Red List of Endangered Species" (On-line). Accessed November 7, 2001 at http://www.redlist.org/search/details.php?species=16644.
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
The cotton mouse has been known to extend its habitat to older, dilapidated buildings and, therefore, act as a household pest if these buildings are inhabited by humans. Additionally, as with most wild mammals, P. gossypinus acts as a reservoir of various infectious pathogens that can also infect humans.
Negative Impacts: causes or carries domestic animal disease ; household pest
Because a large amount of the cotton mouse's diet consists of animal matter, mainly insects, this species might aid in the control of pests in areas inhabited by humans.
Positive Impacts: controls pest population
The cotton mouse (Peromyscus gossypinus) is a species of rodents in the family Cricetidae. It is found in the woodlands of the Southeastern United States. Adults are about 7-8 in long, and have an appearance very similar to the white-footed mouse. The cotton mouse is larger in size and has a longer skull and hind feet. They have dark brown bodies and white feet and bellies. The name is because they often use cotton for nest construction, discovered by Le Conte.
Cotton mice are omnivorous, and eat seeds and insects. Breeding may occur throughout the year, and usually occurs in early spring and fall. They may have four litters a year of up to seven young, which are helpless and naked at birth. Cotton mice are weaned from their mother at 20–25 days, and become sexually mature around two months. Lifespans are four to five months, with a rare few living to one year. They are preyed upon by owls, snakes, weasels, and bobcats.
- Musser, G. G. and M. D. Carleton. 2005. Superfamily Muroidea. Pp. 894–1531 in Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder eds. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
- Cotton Mouse
- LeConte Cotton Mice
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Subspecies allapaticola and anastasae were synonymized with other subspecies by Boone (1995) and Boone et al. (1993), who found that patterns of allozyme variation in P. gossypinus are not concordant with the ranges of the nominal subspecies.
Boone et al. (1999) examined range-wide allozyme variation in P. gossypinus and found that genetic similarity generally reflected geographic proximity; the most divergent populations were from Georgia and Florida sea islands; each population was more or less distinct.
Has hybridized with P. leucopus under laboratory conditions, but the distinctiveness of this species in the field is well documented (see Musser and Carleton, in Wilson and Reeder 1993, 2005).