Overview

Comprehensive Description

The superfamily Muroidea includes most of the familiar rats and mice, but it also encompasses an enormously diverse array of other rodents. Currently there are 1517 recognized species and 310 genera of muroid rodents. These are divided among six families: Platacanthomyidae (Oriental dormice), Spalacidae (zokors, blind mole-rats, bamboo rats, root rats), Calomyscidae (mouse-like hamsters), Nesomyidae (climbing mice, African rock mice, Malagasy rats and mice, swamp mice, pouched rats, white-tailed rat), Cricetidae (hamsters, voles, lemmings, New World rats and mice), and Muridae (true mice and rats, gerbils).

  • Musser, G., M. Carleton. 2005. Superfamily Muroidea. D Wilson, D Reeder, eds. Mammal Species of the World. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Distribution

Members of the superfamily Muroidea can be found on all continents except Antarctica and on many oceanic islands.

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

Other Geographic Terms: holarctic ; cosmopolitan ; island endemic

  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, vol. 2. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Physical Description

Morphology

A number of characters link most muroids. Not surprisingly, even the most basic characters are subject to continuing evolutionary change; most of the characters listed as diagnostic in the next paragraph do in fact show some variation within the group. All, however, are believed to have characterized primitive muroids.

In the   skull of muroids, the   infraorbital foramen, which primitively transmits nerves to the rostral region of the skull, lies mostly above the   zygomatic plate. It is enlarged above for the passage of a slip of muscle that inserts on the lower jaw, and narrowed in its lower region, through which pass nerves and blood vessels en route to the rostrum. The foramen thus has a distinctive "keyhole" shape in most forms (but the narrow ventral portion is lost in a few species). The zygomatic plate, formed by the anterior base of the   zygomatic arch, is broad and a conspicuous feature of the cranium. From it arise other parts of the same muscle (the   masseter) that passes through the infraorbital foramen. The   jugal, one of the bones that participates in the zygomatic arch, is small and does not contact the   lacrimal. The   frontals are constricted above the orbits and there is no   postorbital process or bar. Posteriorly, an   interparietal bone is present and usually conspicuous.

The lower jaw is   sciurognathus. As in all rodents, one upper and one lower   incisor are always found on each side of the jaw, and   canines are always absent. Following the incisor is a   diastema.   Canines and   premolars are never present. No more than three   molars occur on each side, but this number is sometimes reduced to two or even one. The nature of the molars (shape, size, surface structure, number of roots) varies greatly.

Four clawed digits are found on each forefoot (the pollex or "thumb" is small and bears a nail); the hind foot in most has five clawed digits (but sometimes the hallux or first toe has a nail). Other external features (ears, eyes, tail, pelage, etc.) are extremely variable. To compound this variability, some populations of some species are polymorphic, and some exhibit sexual dimorphism in body size.

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

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; female larger; male larger

  • 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.
  • Hubbard, C. 1972. Observations on the life histories and behavior of some small rodents from Tanzania. Zoologica Africana, 7(2): 419-449.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Ecology

Habitat

Muroid rodents occupy ecosystems ranging from dry desert to wet tropical forest, from tundra to savanna to temperate woodland. Some species are semiaquatic; others live underground; yet others spend their entire lives in the canopy of tropical forest.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; polar ; 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

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Trophic Strategy

Muroid food habits range from true omnivores to generalist herbivores to specialists on insects, earthworms, subterranean fungi, and even aquatic invertebrates. Many species, especially herbivorous species, store their surplus food 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 , Lignivore); omnivore ; mycophage

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Associations

Some muroid rodents may be essential ("keystone") species in maintaining the health of forests, through their role in spreading mycorrhizal fungi or dispersing seeds. Others affect the rate of forest succession by preying on tree seedlings. Some species are important pollinators. Others dig tunnels, and in doing so, create habitat for other species and aerate the soil. Many species are a vital food source for a wide range of predators, and muroids as a group support many different kinds of parasites, such as ticks and mites, fleas, lice, bot flies, nematodes, tapeworms, and trypanosomes. Finally, a few muroid species are commensal with humans, inhabiting cities and towns and relying on human-produced waste to survive.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; pollinates; creates habitat; soil aeration ; keystone species

Species Used as Host:

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • Johnson, S., A. Pauw, J. Midgley. 2001. Rodent pollination in the African lily Massonia depressa (Hyacinthaceae). American Journal of Botany, 88(10): 1768-1773.
  • Manson, R., R. Ostfeld, C. Canham. 2001. Long-term effects of rodent herbivores on tree invasion dynamics along forest-field edges. Ecology, 82 (12): 3320-3329.
  • Roberts, L., J. Janovy, Jr. 2000. Foundations of Parasitology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Zhang, Y., Z. Zhang, J. Liu. 2003. Burrowing rodents as ecosystem engineers: the ecology and management of plateau zokors Myospalax fontanierii in alpine meadow ecosystems on the Tibetan Plateau. Mammal Review, 33(3): 284-294.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Muroid rodents, as a group, have predators belonging to nearly every class of vertebrates, including birds and other reptiles, amphibians, fish, and other mammals. To avoid their numerous predators, muroid rodents have evolved strategies of hiding, running, swimming, hopping, climbing, and biting. There are even those that, when grabbed, lose their tails and buy themselves enough time to escape. One unique species, Lophiomys imhausi, is aposematic, exudes a musky odor, and may be a porcupine mimic through the use of stiff, erectile hairs.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: mimic; aposematic ; 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): 684-685.
  • Shargal, E., L. Rath-Wolfson, N. Kronfeld, T. Dayan. 1999. Ecological and histological aspects of tail loss in spiny mice (Rodentia: Muridae, Acomys) with a review of its occurrence in rodents. Journal of Zoology, 249: 187-193.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Life History and Behavior

Behavior

To avoid the many predators that they face, and to find food and mates, muroid rodents have evolved acute visual, acoustic, tactile, and chemical senses, but the relative importance of these for each species varies widely. The means by which muroid rodents communicate also varies between species. A common theme in mammalian communication is the use of pheromones, which are used widely by muroid rodents to send and receive signals about an individual's status. In addition, some communicate using sounds (including ultrasounds) or vibrations.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks ; vibrations

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; ultrasound ; vibrations ; chemical

  • Ehret, G. 2005. Infant rodent ultrasounds - A gate to the understanding of sound. Behavior Genetics, 35(1): 19-29.
  • Johnston, R. 2003. Chemical communication in rodents: From pheromones to individual recognition. Journal of Mammalogy, 84 (4): 1141-1162.
  • Smith, J. 1972. Sound production by infant Peromyscus maniculatus (Rodentia:Myomorpha). Journal of Zoology, 168: 369-379.
  • 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.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Life Expectancy

Most muroids face a large array of predators and put all of their energy into a high reproductive output early in life, and therefore do not live more than a year or two in the wild. Captivity often extends the lifespan by several years.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Reproduction

Muroids have monogamous, polygynous, and polygynandrous mating systems. Most commonly, they are polygynandrous, with males and females each having multiple mates over the course of a breeding period.

Mating System: monogamous ; polygynous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Given the incredible diversity of this group, it is nearly impossible to generalize about the life-history characteristics of its members. The "typical" muroid species is characterized by a "fast" life: high reproductive output at an early age and a high mortality rate. The high reproductive output is made possible in many species by a postpartum estrus, which allows females to become pregnant again immediately after giving birth. Sometimes implantation of the embryos is delayed until after a female stops lactating, and in some species, the act of mating itself induces ovulation.

Key Reproductive Features: semelparous ; iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; induced ovulation ; fertilization (Internal ); viviparous ; delayed implantation ; post-partum estrous

Muroid mothers, like all female mammals, provide their young with milk until the young can eat solid food. Many muroid females build nests in which they raise and care for their young, which range from altricial to precocial. Male parental care is rare in this group, but it does occur in a few species. In most muroid species, the young disperse soon after they are weaned, but in a few, they stay with their parents for more than one breeding season.

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

  • 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.
  • Gubernick, D., T. Teferi. 2000. Adaptive significance of male parental care in a monogamous mammal. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 267 (1439): 147-150.
  • 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.
  • Sommer, S. 2000. Sex-specific predation on a monogamous rat, Hypogeomys antimena (Muridae: Nesomyinae). Animal Behavior, 59: 1087-1094.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Conservation

Conservation Status

Almost 26% of muroid species are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This includes 32 critically endangered species and 70 endangered species. Many of the threatened muroid species are endemic, and their restricted ranges render them especially vulnerable to habitat destruction and fragmentation, the two main threats to this and many other taxonomic groups. Few steps have been taken to save threatened muroid species; they are not particularly charismatic or popular with the public and in many cases there is simply not enough known about them to know where to begin.

  • IUCN, 2004. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed May 16, 2005 at www.redlist.org.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Some muroid species cause millions of dollars of damage to agricultural lands and stored foods. Several are pests that destroy household goods, cause structural damage, and even start fires by gnawing on electrical wires. Others are the vectors or reservoirs of a number of diseases that have periodically devasted human populations (and continue to do so).

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

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Many muroid species are beneficial to man. Some are important biological controls of pest insects. Some are popular pets. Others are hunted for their meat, their skins, or their bones (which may be used in traditional medicine). And a few species play an essential role in medical research that has been enormously beneficial to human populations.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material; source of medicine or drug ; research and education; controls pest population

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Disclaimer

EOL content is automatically assembled from many different content providers. As a result, from time to time you may find pages on EOL that are confusing.

To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!