Mammal Handling

The Bank Vole rotated slowly in its polythene bag. I wasn’t confident that I could catch it.

As it regarded each member of our group through ink-drop eyes, I wondered darkly what it was capable of.

Alicia – staff naturalist at the Aigas Field Centre – made it all look easy. She tipped the bag and the vole scuttled into a corner. Once there, she reached up from underneath to gently restrain its head; using the other hand to scruff it expertly.

Safely caught by the loose skin on its nape, the little creature was whisked out of the bag and presented to us in mid air. Its tiny pink feet paddled ineffectively. Realising that there was no chance of escape, a look of resignation settled and it allowed us to measure its ears.

Other members of the group, nervously clutching bags of voles, got stuck in. I was heartened. Success was everywhere.

We had set the traps the previous evening; baiting them with grain [plus some warm bedding] and hiding them between tussocks of grass and heather. There were three different sorts – some of metal and some of plastic.

Retracing our route at dawn, only the final batch of traps had been successful. Each was opened in a strong plastic sack to allow the occupants to be captured. We were collecting bio-metric data for submission to the Mammal Society.

The bank voles were quite amenable, and after a brief struggle, allowed themselves to be carefully transferred between group members for handling practice.

Measurements were taken. Data was recorded. Voles were admired.

The Woodmouse, however, proved to be an entirely different animal.

Woodmice are very beautiful. They are larger and more handsome than the familiar House Mouse. Rather than being mousy-grey all over, their coat has the rich orange hue of autumn leaves. Their chin and underside is a crisp, clean white; with an elegant pinkish-brown tail, every bit as long as their body. Their faces are pointy and alert -being framed by a spray of twitchety brown whiskers.

They are also quite neurotic – which, I suppose, is what happens when everyone else wants to eat you.

My woodmouse did not look pleased. It’s beetle-bright eyes bulged; every hair on its body seemed to thrum with latent energy and adrenaline. Swallowing anxiously, I reached into the plastic sack. The woodmouse made a terrific jump, fully extending its spring-loaded hind legs, and almost vanished up my sleeve. Hastily I crunched the plastic sack shut and withdrew my arm. I tried once again to restrain it in a corner from underneath.

Reaching in for a second time, I managed to finger the little pocket of loose skin behind its head. Holding as firmly as I dared, I elevated the mouse and brought it into the open.

It squirmed like an eel. Alarmingly, the mouse’s body didn’t seem to be attached to the inside of its skin, so it was able to rotate freely within its furry coat. I struggled manfully to maintain a grip, but failed.

The mouse scrabbled onto the cuff of my jacket, before plopping down onto my boot and leaving a rooster trail of displaced pine needles as it shot immediately into the brash.

I’m just grateful that it didn’t bite me on its way out…

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward [ – and inexpert mouse handler]

The offending mouse: notice its amazing ability to rotate within its own skin?!Woodmouse