“We want mice!” »
It’s the rallying cry of Megan Phifer-Rixey’s biology lab at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She’s looking for city mice – as well as their rural cousins – to compare their DNA.
Phifer-Rixey – who is receiving a five-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the genetics of urbanization in house mice, Mus musculus — has posted flyers around town seeking volunteers whose homes are infested with mice and who will allow her students to set traps to catch mice to study them.
“People are pretty optimistic about getting mice out of their apartments,” Phifer-Rixey said. “You would think we would know more about these mice that live with us, but surprisingly there isn’t a lot of research on mice that live in urban environments.”
Mice are an “invaluable resource” for research into human diseases, his lab’s website says. They are also very adaptable to their environment. “They live easily in captivity, breed quickly with large litters, and tolerate human contact” – traits that make them beloved in the laboratory, but obnoxious at home.
Mice thrive in cities like New York, filled with aging housing stock, and are difficult to control. Phifer-Rixey has seen situations ranging from “a mouse in the kitchen to something more extreme,” she said, like a full-on infestation.
Perhaps its most enthusiastic participant is Debra Lass, whose mouse invasion began shortly after Local Law 11 facade work began on her Upper West Side building.
“The nightmare began in June when I woke up to the sound of rhythmic scratching and saw a mouse crawling along my bedroom curtain,” Lass, 70, said.
Despite his cleaning efforts and complaints, nothing has yet eliminated the mice, Lass said. She called 311, the Ministry of Health and her MP. She trapped seven mice, plugged visible holes, installed a Rat Zapper, housed four housing inspectors and swept up recurring trails of trash.
A musky smell lingers in Lass’s kitchen, where his oven is a warm shelter for nesting mice. When Lass saw “something fluffy” under the oven, she thought it was balled-up fur from her 17-year-old cat, Tutti, before realizing it was mouse fur.
She found mouse remains in the oven. “The oven is a crematorium for mice!” she says. She also added an air purifier, worried about inhaling pathogens.
His management company replaced the oven, but the new one also has an odor.
“The smell comes from MUPs,” Phifer-Rixey said – mouse urinary proteins. “House mice can identify each other by their smell. They leave smells – it’s a territory and an identity.
In mid-August, Drexel students set four humane metal traps around Lass’ apartment. One student texted every morning asking if she had caught one. It took six days to catch a mouse, easily identifiable as a juvenile by its small size and not yet fully developed legs.
When it comes to evading capture, “mice are surprisingly intelligent,” Phifer-Rixey said. It is possible that mice are reluctant to interact with a new object – a trap – in their environment.
They can also be picky eaters. “How good is our bait compared to their other options? » said Phifer-Rixey. His traps are baited with peanut butter and oats. Mice are omnivores, and the lab will study differences in diet between rural mice, which eat grains and insects, and urban mice, which eat people’s food.
“It’s constantly kind of an arms race against mice,” Phifer-Rixey said. “They chew their way. They spend a lot of time chewing and they’re good at it.”
Lass, who has lived in his stabilized one-bedroom apartment for 35 years, suspects construction work on the building has awakened the mice — and they favor his apartment because most of the building’s neighboring units have been completely renovated and are more airtight against the intrusion of rodents.
The city’s fourth Department of Housing Preservation and Development inspector issued a letter citing the owner for a “Class C” mouse violation, which is considered an “indoor allergen hazard” with a ” 21-day correction period.
The homeowner must eliminate the infestation and “the underlying condition that caused the infestation” using “integrated pest management practices.” These include cleaning, removing entry points, and eliminating water sources from leaking plumbing. Pesticides can only be applied by a state-licensed professional.
If the landlord does not follow the practices described, the tenant should call 311, the letter states. The next step is housing court.
“I feel so helpless,” said Lass, who has consulted a lawyer. “I’m terrified that this can’t be solved and that we’ll never get rid of these mice, and that’s my life.”
On several occasions the management company, AJ Clarke, sent a contractor to seal the holes and an exterminator to install matching traps.
But the problem persists, Lass said, and she needs a more aggressive plan. She scheduled her own exterminator, but the doorman was instructed to refuse her entry, she said.
“Without informing us, she had her own vendor do the work and we generally don’t allow that,” property manager Scott Clarke told the Post. “We need a certificate of insurance.”
“I look forward to getting this resolved quickly,” Clarke said. “It’s a difficult time of year with mice. When it’s cool, they come inside. In the next week we will know if there have been any significant changes.
So far, there haven’t been any, Lass said. “Instead, I am overcome by the plague. I feel like I’m in Egypt. What’s next: grasshoppers? »
When the Drexel students returned for their mice, Lass asked them to leave the three extra traps behind, “but they said no – only one data point per apartment.”
That’s because “if you catch them in the same place, from a genetic standpoint we can only use one,” Phifer-Rixey said. “They are probably very close relatives.”
His lab continues to look for mice to study. “We want to expand into other areas,” she said. “We haven’t caught any in the Bronx.”
New York Post