Temporal range: Early Miocene – Recent
|Wood mouse, Apodemus sylvaticus|
The Muridae, or murids, are the largest family of rodents and indeed of mammals, containing over 700 species found naturally throughout Eurasia, Africa, and Australia. A few species, including the house mouse, brown rat and black rat, have been introduced worldwide. The group includes true mice and rats, gerbils, and relatives.
The murids are small mammals, typically around 10 cm (3.9 in) long excluding the tail, but ranging from 4.5 to 8 cm (1.8 to 3.1 in) in the African pygmy mouse to 48 cm (19 in) in Cuming's slender-tailed cloud rat. They typically have slender bodies with scaled tails, and pointed snouts with prominent whiskers, but with wide variation in these broad traits. Many murids have elongated legs and feet to allow them to move with a hopping motion, while others have broad feet and prehensile tails to improve their climbing ability, and yet others have neither adaptation. They are most commonly some shade of brown in colour, although many have black, grey, or white markings.
Murids generally have excellent senses of hearing and smell. They live in a wide range of habitats from forest to grassland, and mountain ranges. A number of species, especially the gerbils, are adapted to desert conditions, and can survive for a long time with minimal water. They are either herbivores or omnivores, eating a wide range of foods in different species, with the aid of powerful jaw muscles and gnawing incisors that grow throughout life. The dental formula of murids is 188.8.131.52-3.
Murids breed frequently, often producing large litters several times per year. They typically give birth between 20 and 40 days after mating, although this varies greatly between species. The young are typically born blind, hairless, and helpless, although there are exceptions, such as in spiny mice.
As with many other small mammals, the evolution of the murids is not well known, as few fossils survive. They probably evolved from hamster-like animals in tropical Asia some time in the early Miocene, and have only subsequently produced species capable of surviving in cooler climates. They have become especially common worldwide during the Holocene, as a result of hitching a ride commensally with human migrations.
- Deomyinae (spiny mice, brush furred mice, link rat)
- Gerbillinae (gerbils, jirds and sand rats)
- Leimacomyinae (Togo mouse)
- Lophiomyinae (maned rat or crested rat)
- Murinae (Old World rats and mice, including vlei rats)
Murids feature in literature, including folk tales and fairy stories. In the Pied Piper of Hamelin, retold in many versions since the fourteenth century including one by the Brothers Grimm, a rat-catcher lures the town's rats into the river, but the mayor refuses to pay him. In revenge, the rat-catcher lures away all the children of the town, never to return. Mice feature in some of Beatrix Potter's small books, including The Tale of Two Bad Mice (1904), The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse (1910), The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse (1918), and The Tailor of Gloucester (1903), which last was described by J. R. R. Tolkien as perhaps the nearest to his idea of a fairy story, the rest being "beast-fables". Among Aesop's Fables are The Cat and the Mice and The Frog and the Mouse. In James Herbert's first novel, The Rats, (1974), a vagrant is attacked and eaten alive by a pack of giant rats; further attacks follow.
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- Mieder, Wolfgang (2007). The Pied Piper: A Handbook. Greenwood. pp. 71 and passim. ISBN 0-313-33464-1.
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- Gibbs, Laura (2002–2008). "Aesopica". MythFolklore.net. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
- Holland, Steve (21 March 2013). "James Herbert obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 June 2014.