Salt marsh harvest mouse

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Salt marsh harvest mouse
Reithrodontomys raviventris.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Cricetidae
Subfamily: Neotominae
Genus: Reithrodontomys
Species: R. raviventris
Binomial name
Reithrodontomys raviventris
Dixon, 1908

The salt marsh harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys raviventris), also known as the red-bellied harvest mouse and sometimes called the saltmarsh harvest mouse, is an endangered rodent endemic to the San Francisco Bay Area salt marshes in California.[2] There are two distinct subspecies, both endangered and listed together on federal and state endangered species lists. The northern subspecies (Reithrodontomys raviventris halicoetes) is lighter in color and inhabits the northern marshes of the bay, and the southern subspecies (Reithrodontomys raviventris raviventris) lives in the East and South Bay marshes. They are both quite similar in appearance to their congener species, the [Western harvest mouse, R. megalotis], to which they are not closely related. Genetic studies of the northern subspecies have revealed that the salt marsh harvest mouse is most closely related to the plains harvest mouse, R. montanus, ([3]), which occurs now in the Midwest]. Its endangered designation is due to its limited range, historic decline in population and continuing threat of habitat loss due to development encroachment at the perimeter of San Francisco Bay.

Description and comparison to similar species[edit]

The southern population of the salt marsh harvest mouse tends to have dark brown fur above and a pinkish cinnamon or tawny belly; moreover, the tail is likewise bicolored. An adult's length is twelve to eighteen centimeters (5 to 7 inches) and a tail length of six to ten centimeters (2 to 4 inches). The height is between 1.5 and 2.1 centimeters (0.6 to 0.8 inches). Weight of a mature mouse is approximately 10 to 20 grams (0.35 to 0.7 ounces). The northern subspecies is also dorsally brown or reddish brown, but the venters tend to be white or cream, and rarely with a hint of reddish; tail length is usually about 120% of the body length.[4] The upper incisors are grooved.

This species is nocturnal, with particularly noted activity on moonlit nights. This mouse is particularly resourceful, making use of ground runways of other rodents; moreover, he also exhibits climbing agility. It occupies marsh habitats where pickleweed and marsh plants abound. Its many predators feature hawk, snake and owl species, as well as shorebirds and larger mammals. Predation by domestic cats is an issue due to encroachment of the limited habitat by humans at the perimeter of the San Francisco Bay.

As would be expected of a mouse native to salt marshes, this species is a competent swimmer and is tolerant of salt in its diet and water supply. It eats seeds and plants, especially pickleweed and glasswort, one of the most common salt marsh plant species.

Similar species are the Plains Harvest Mouse, and the Fulvous Harvest Mouse, which has a longer tail. The species co-occurs with the similar Western harvest mouse, which tends to be have dorsal fur that is more gray than R. raviventris and with ventral fur that is white to grayish; and the House mouse which is gray, has a scaly tail and incisors without grooves, unlike those of the salt marsh harvest mouse.


Survey data from Suisun Marsh found that the salt marsh harvest mouse can live up to 18 months and possibly longer. Females commonly have two litters per year. In the summer, when salinity of water and vegetation increases, the mice have a notable advantage due to their ability to drink and survive purely on salt water. The northern species can survive purely on salt water, but prefers fresh water to salt water (need to add Fisler as source). The southern species can survive on either, and does not display a preference.[5]


The mice depend heavily on vegetation cover, particularly pickleweed and tules (Schoenoplectus spp.). Pickleweed (Salicornia virginica) is their primary and preferred habitat as well their main food source. The salt marsh harvest mouse is not an aggressive species; many mice live in close quarters, withstanding short durations of high population density due to seasonal flooding that restricts individuals to small patches of dry ground. They can also survive tidal or seasonal flooding due to their superior ability to swim, float and climb.[5]


The salt marsh harvest mouse is an endangered species that is endemic to the San Francisco Bay. Its salt marsh habitat could be highly impacted by sea-level rise.

This organism is known to be found in the following specific locales (among others):


The salt marsh harvest mouse has lost much of its habitat to extensive development of bayside marshland. Pollution, boat activity, commercial salt harvesting. It has been on the endangered lists since the 1970s, and has protected habitat within numerous Bay Area wildlife refuges. Individual political jurisdictions have conducted research and established habitat protection strategies to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse. For example, the city of San Rafael, California has established a shoreline setback standard to prevent any land development within fifty feet of the shoreline; this measure has been applied to several specific land developments along the San Francisco Bay shoreline.[6]

Reference in 2009 economic stimulus debate[edit]

The preservation of the salt marsh harvest mouse habitat was a subject of discussion in 2009 Economic Stimulus package. The mouse was mentioned numerous times in congress by Republicans such as Rep. Mike Pence and Rep. Dan Lungren to highlight the wasteful spending of the bill.[7] It was claimed that $30m of the 2009 economic stimulus would be spent on habitat restoration to protect the mouse. The rumor was apparently started by Michael Steel, press secretary for John Boehner.[8][9] This was disputed in a San Francisco Chronicle article by Democratic U.S. Rep Jackie Speier.[10]


  1. ^ Whitaker Jr., J.O., Hammerson, G. & Williams, D.F. (2008). "Reithrodontomys raviventris". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 5 February 2010. 
  2. ^ Musser, G. G. and M. D. Carleton. 2005. Superfamily Muroidea. Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder eds. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
  3. ^ Presentation by Sarah Brown: Conservation genetics of salt marsh harvest mice (Reithrodontomys raviventris). Presented at College of Science and Math Symposium, California State University, San Luis Obispo. 5/01
  4. ^ Sustaita et al. Salt marsh harvest mouse demography and habitat use in the Suisun Marsh, CA. Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 75, Issue 6, pp 1498-1509. August 2011.
  5. ^ a b Golovanova, Galina. The Biogeography of the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse (Reithrodonomys raviventris).
  6. ^ Hogan, C. Michael et al. (1989). Spinnaker-on-the-Bay Expanded Initial Study, Earth Metrics Inc., prepared for the city of San Rafael, California
  7. ^ Mentions of the Mouse. (2009-02-13). Retrieved on 2012-12-30.
  8. ^ Mercury News: Bay Area mouse spurs national debate over stimulus bill. February 13, 2009.
  9. ^ Erbe, Bonnie. Republicans Flop On Pelosi Mouse Lie, Haven't Learned Environmental Lesson. CBS News. 13 February 2009.
  10. ^ Speier, Jackie (14 February 2009). The myth of the 'San Francisco mouse'.

Further reading[edit]

  • National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals, ed. by John O. Whitaker Jr., Chanticleer Press (1997) ISBN 0-679-44631-1
  • Shellhammer (2000). Reithrodontomys raviventris. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is vulnerable and the criteria used