If you were to see a piece of cheese in a mouse trap, you would probably think nothing of it. Depictions of the combination can be found throughout popular culture – from board games to children’s books, and more commonly in Saturday morning cartoons. The association of cheese and mice is as natural as peanut butter and jelly.
But what does science have to say about the mice-cheese relationship? Do mice find cheese completely irresistible, or is it just an urban legend?
Researchers from the UK’s Manchester Metropolitan University found that mice actually prefer sweets over cheeses. Since cheese doesn’t appear naturally in the diet of mice, it’s not really that hard to believe. Wild mice don’t encounter cheese in the wild, thus their palates are unaccustomed to it.
According to the researchers, the diet of mice is mostly made up of grains and fruit that are relatively high in sugar. The researchers learned of the preference thanks to an experiment which was part of a wider project into what foods attract and repel animals.
Animal behaviorist Dr. David Holmes, the head of the research project, said “Studies found that mice prefer foods with lots of sugar like chocolates and cheese does not fit that.”
He continues, “Mice respond to the smell, texture and taste of food. Cheese is something that would not be available to them in their natural environment and so not something they would respond to.” Mice that are hungry enough will eat just about anything that is edible (and some things that aren’t). However, if you’re trying to catch a mouse in a trap, you may want to use something that smells enticing.
There’s no single red flag that we can point to for the myth’s persistence in pop culture, instead, a handful of reasons seem to come together to contribute — reasons which are nearly as old as humanity itself.
Mice have been eating our scraps and unprotected food throughout human history. Before refrigeration, humans kept a lot of grains and cheeses around because they could be stored the longest without spoiling. When mice would raid a pantry, they could nibble away at the grains and no one would be the wiser, at least not immediately. When the grain was gone however, mice would eat anything even remotely edible, this included any cheeses nearby.
Unfortunately for the mice, a big block of cheese is heavy. A hungry mouse had no choice but to eat what was there and couldn’t bring left-overs back to its nest. Because of the hard nature of most cheeses, the mice would leave evidence of their midnight snacking. When a homeowner went to retrieve the cheese for a meal, they would find the little telltale gnaw marks of mice. This helped perpetuate the belief that mice must love cheese.
Favorite Food Of Mice
Do you have a mouse problem and need to know what to use for bait? Try some peanut butter. Peanuts are common in the diet of mice and are high in sugar. Processed peanut butters have even higher levels of sugar. Researchers found that both the odor and taste are big mice attractants and extremely effective in mousetraps.
Bonus factoid: Mouse urine has a fluorescent glow. Because of this unusual property, blacklights can be useful in determining the presence of mice.