Natural Selections: Peromyscus polionotus ammobates

Generally thought of as dirty, pesky and undesireable, rodents get a bad rap. On the beaches between Fort Morgan and Ono Island, however, you can find one that’s well-groomed, noninvasive and environmentally friendly. Unfortunately, you’ll have to search pretty hard: the endangered Alabama Beach Mouse (ABM) is at risk of becoming extinct and desperately needs our help.

ORGIN OF SPECIES A type of field mouse, five of the eight subspecies of beach mice live on the Gulf Coast. “All beach mice coat patterns are very similar, ” says Bill Lynn, a biologist at the Alabama field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “But the Alabama Beach Mouse can be distinguished by the darker color of its fur.”

SPICK AND SPAN “They’re actually very clean animals, ” Lynn says. “They can reach almost any part of their bodies, so they’re able to groom and clean all of their fur. We’ve never found external parasites on them.”

BEACH BUMS Don’t worry about these critters creeping into your home; they live exclusively in sand dune habitats. In fact, by moving and dispersing seeds, the ABM promotes the growth of plant life, helping to build the very dunes that it calls home.

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TOM AND JERRY One of the biggest threats to ABM populations is the house cat. To protect mice from non-native predators, efforts have been made to rid some coastal habitats (such as Santa Rosa and Anastasia Islands) of domestic felines entirely, to little success. 

HOME INVASION The destruction of their habitat is the biggest reason that the ABM is endangered. This demolition is the result of human and environmental factors such as hurricanes, land development, pedestrian misuse and exotic vegetation.

FAMILY MATTERS Unlike 97 percent of all mammals, beach mice are monogamous; one male mates with one female in a lifetime. They tend to nest together as family units, and both parents care for the mice pups.

MOUSE PAD The clever rodents make their homes in burrows consisting of a large opening connected by a 2- to 3-foot tunnel to a main chamber. On the opposite side of the chamber is a second hidden tunnel that doesn’t fully connect to the sand’s surface. If a predator threatens their burrow, the mice shoot out of this secret passage to make a speedy escape.

LEND A HAND One of the ways landowners can help the ABM is to “invest in dune plants, ” Lynn says. “These plants help create dunes which give storm protection for landowners, an aesthetically pleasing view to the tourist of the Alabama’s Gulf Coast and create habitat for endangered wildlife such as the ABM and sea turtles.” To aid in the recovery of our favorite coastal rodent, locals can also install snow fences, properly dispose of garbage, refrain from using poisons and animal traps, use dune walkovers and boardwalks whenever possible and keep cats indoors.

Natural Selections is a new department that focuses on local flora and fauna. Email topic suggestions to us at [email protected].

text by HALEY POTTS • illustration by kelan mercer

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