August 22, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)

Outwitting Mice

If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1871

For much of my life, I worked with mice. I was considered to be an authority on mice and particularly on the design and operation of a mouse colony. So, when I built my house, I made it mouse proof. There was no way that a mouse could get in unless someone left the door open. At least that was what I thought. What I hadn't considered was the vent for the clothes dryer.

The dryer vent was made of plastic and it had a flap that kept wind from blowing in. The flap soon fell off and I left it off. Besides, the opening was about 12 feet above ground level, so I figured that an animal couldn't climb up the wall. How wrong I was.

One day, my wife complained about an odor near the dryer. I removed the front panel and discovered a dead mouse. Obviously, my mouse-proof house wasn't mouse proof at all.

The first thing that I did was to cover the dryer vent with 1/4 inch mesh screen. That would keep further invasions of mice from happening.

Next, I set a trap for any mice that might be in the house. I used the standard wood and metal snap trap. This trap has been in existence, virtually unchanged, for at least 60 years that I know of. I used peanut butter for bait. The next morning, there was a dead mouse. I figured that I had done the job.

Some time later, I noticed that a banana had been nibbled on. I found a roll of toilet paper shredded. There was still a mouse in my house. Or, perhaps, more than one.

I reset the trap and caught another mouse. I reset it again and found, the next morning, that the peanut butter was gone, but the trap wasn't sprung. I repeated the procedure with the same result. Michael Braught, our local hardware store owner, said that sticky traps were foolproof. I bought a package of two and, sure enough, the one that I set out had a dead mouse trapped by it. I set out the other one and.......nothing. I reset the spring trap and found the peanut butter bait gone, but no mouse. I tried a live trap and found the trap sprung, the bait gone and no mouse. I was being outwitted by a rodent.

I can't think of anything more demeaning for someone with my background and intelligence, than to be outwitted by a mouse.

I checked the pantry and found a bag of pistachio nuts that had been gnawed open and was surrounded by lots of empty shells. The mouse, or mice, had an almost unlimited supply of food. I put all nuts in mouse-proof containers and made sure that there was no food available. Then I re-baited the trap.

The next morning, the peanut butter was gone and the trap was unsprung. I re-baited the trap with the same results. I thought about it for days and nights. Then I had an idea. I took a few shelled peanut halves and tied them to the bait holder with some fine wire. If the mouse tried to wrestle the nut free it might spring the trap.

The next morning, eureka, there was a dead mouse. I smeared peanut butter on the peanuts. A week went bye and the peanut butter dried on the trap. I had caught my last mouse.

It has been over a month and I am reasonably certain that there is nary a mouse in my house.


Lastly, Ralph Waldo Emerson didn't know much about mice, mousetraps, business, or recognition.

Next column

Return to the Personal Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page