Three Little Redcoats and Some Others
WITH Whitefoot the Wood Mouse, Danny Meadow Mouse and Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse attending school, the Mouse family was well represented, but when school opened the morning after Nimbleheels had made his sudden and startling appearance, there was still another present. It was Piney the Pine Mouse. Whitefoot, who knew him, had hunted him up and brought him along.
"I thought you wouldn't mind if Piney came," explained Whitefoot.
"I'm glad he has come," replied Old Mother Nature. "It is much better to see a thing than merely to be told about it, and now you have a chance to see for yourselves the differences between two cousins very closely related, Danny Meadow Mouse and Piney the Pine Mouse. What difference do you see, Happy Jack Squirrel?"
"Piney is a little smaller than Danny, though he is much the same shape," was the prompt reply.
"True," said Old Mother Nature. "Now, Striped Chipmunk, what difference do you see?"
"The fur of Piney's coat is shorter, finer and has more of a shine. Then, too, it is more of a reddish-brown than Danny's," replied Striped Chipmunk.
"And what do you say, Peter Rabbit?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"Piney has a shorter tail," declared Peter, and everybody laughed.
"Trust you to look at his tail first," said Old Mother Nature. "These are the chief differences as far as looks are concerned. Their habits differ in about the same degree. As you all know, Danny cuts little paths through the grass. Piney doesn't do this, but makes little tunnels just under the surface of the ground very much as Miner the Mole does. He isn't fond of the open Green Meadows or of damp places as Danny is, but likes best the edge of the Green Forest and brushy places. He is very much at home in a poorly kept orchard where the weeds are allowed to grow and in young orchards he does a great deal of damage by cutting off the roots of young trees and stripping off the bark as high up as he can reach. Tell us, Piney, how and where you make your home."
Piney hesitated a little, for he was bashful. "I make my home under ground," he ventured finally. "I dig a nice little bedroom with several entrances from my tunnels, and in it I make a fine nest of soft grass. Close by I dig one or more rooms in which to store my food, and these usually are bigger than my bedroom. When I get one filled with food I close it up by filling the entrance with earth."
"What do you put in your storerooms?" asked Peter Rabbit.
"Short pieces of grass and pieces of roots of different kinds," replied Piney. "I am very fond of tender roots and the bark of trees and bushes."
"And he dearly loves to get in a garden where he can tunnel along a row of potatoes or other root crops," added Old Mother Nature. "Because of these habits he does a great deal of damage and is much disliked by man. Striped Chipmunk mentioned his reddish-brown coat. There is another cousin with a coat so red that he is called the Red-backed Mouse. He is about the size of Danny Meadow Mouse but has larger ears and a longer tail.
"This little fellow is a lover of the Green Forest, and he is quite as active by day as by night. He is pretty, especially when he sits up to eat, holding his food in his paws as does Happy Jack Squirrel. He makes his home in a burrow, the entrance to which is under an old stump, a rock or the root of a tree. His nest is of soft grass or moss. Sometimes he makes it in a hollow log or stump instead of digging a bedroom under ground. He is thrifty and lays up a supply of food in underground rooms, hollow logs and similar places. He eats seeds, small fruits, roots and various plants. Because of his preference for the Green Forest and the fact that he lives as a rule far from the homes of men, he does little real damage.
"There is still another little Redcoat in the family, and he is especially interesting because while he is related to Danny Meadow Mouse he lives almost wholly in trees. He is called the Rufous Tree Mouse. Rufous means reddish-brown, and he gets that name because of the color of his coat. He lives in the great forests of the Far West, where the trees are so big and tall that the biggest tree you have ever seen would look small beside them. And it is in those great trees that the Rufous Tree Mouse lives.
"Just why he took to living in trees no one knows, for he belongs to that branch of the family known as Ground Mice. But live in them he does, and he is quite as much at home in them as any Squirrel."
Chatterer the Red Squirrel was interested right away. "Does he build a nest in a tree like a Squirrel?" he asked.
"He certainly does," replied Old Mother Nature, "and often it is a most remarkable nest. In some sections he places it only in big trees, sometimes a hundred feet from the ground. In other sections it is placed in small trees and only a few feet above the ground. The high nests often are old deserted nests of Squirrels enlarged and built over. Some of them are very large indeed and have been used year after year. Each year they have been added to.
"One of these big nests will have several bedrooms and little passages running all through it. It appears that Mrs. Rufous usually has one of these big nests to herself, Rufous having a small nest of his own out on one of the branches. The big nest is close up against the trunk of the tree where several branches meet."
"Does Rufous travel from one tree to another, or does he live in just one tree?" asked Happy Jack Squirrel.
"Wherever branches of one tree touch those of another, and you know in a thick forest this is frequently the case, he travels about freely if he wants to. But those trees are so big that I suspect he spends most of his time in the one in which his home is," replied Old Mother Nature. "However, if an enemy appears in his home tree, he makes his escape by jumping from one tree to another, just as you would do."
"What I want to know is where he gets his food if he spends all his time up in the trees," spoke up Danny Meadow Mouse.
Old Mother Nature smiled. "Where should he get it but up where he lives?" she asked. "Rufous never has to worry about food. It is all around him. You see, so far as known, he lives wholly on the thick parts of the needles, which you know are the leaves, of fir and spruce trees, and on the bark of tender twigs. So you see he is more of a tree dweller than any of the Squirrel family. While Rufous has the general shape of Danny and his relatives, he has quite a long tail. Now I guess this will do for the nearest relatives of Danny Meadow Mouse."
"He certainly has a lot of them," remarked Whitefoot the Wood Mouse. Then he added a little wistfully, "Of course, in a way they are all cousins of mine, but I wish I had some a little more closely related."
"You have," replied Old Mother Nature, and Whitefoot pricked up his big ears. "One of them is Bigear the Rock Mouse, who lives out in the mountains of the Far West. He is as fond of the rocks as Rufous is of the trees. Sometimes he lives in brush heaps and in brushy country, but he prefers rocks, and that is why he is known as the Rock Mouse.
"He is a pretty little fellow, if anything a trifle bigger than you, Whitefoot, and he is dressed much like you with a yellowish-brown coat and white waistcoat. He has just such a long tail covered with hair its whole length. But you should see his ears. He has the largest ears of any member of the whole family. That is why he is called Bigear. He likes best to be out at night, but often comes out on dull days. He eats seeds and small nuts and is especially fond of juniper seeds. He always lays up a supply of food for winter. Often he is found very high up on the mountains.
"Another of your cousins, Whitefoot, lives along the seashore of the East down in the Sunny South. He is called the Beach Mouse. In general appearance he is much like you, having the same shape, long tail and big ears, but he is a little smaller and his coat varies. When he lives back from the shore, in fields where the soil is dark, his upper coat is dark grayish-brown, but when he lives on the white sands of the seashore it is very light. His home is in short burrows in the ground.
"Now don't you little people think you have learned enough about the Mouse family?"
"You haven't told us about Nibbler the House Mouse yet. And you said you would," protested Peter Rabbit.
"And when we were learning about Longfoot the Kangaroo Rat you said he was most closely related to the Pocket Mice. What about them?" said Johnny Chuck.
Old Mother Nature laughed. "I see," said she, "that you want to know all there is to know. Be on hand to-morrow morning. I guess we can finish up with the Mouse family then and with them the order of Rodents to which all of you belong."