Are you curious about what mouse you saw in your garden or out on a walk? Or did your cat bring one in and you wondered what it was?

Mouse identification

Take a quick look at types of mouse, vole and shrew using the gallery below.

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Mice - distinguishing features

  • Very large eyes, long tail, very large ears, pointed snout.
  • The UK is home to six different species of mice. Five of these are native, the sixth, the edible dormouse, was introduced to Hertfordshire as an escapee in 1902.
  • Most mice species have a very short life expectancy in the wild – up to a year – with the exception of the dormouse, which can live for up to five years. This is rivalled only by the edible dormouse that can live for up to nine years!
  • Mice are rodents – a scientific classification that groups animals that have a pair of continuously growing incisors.

Credit: Amy Lewis / WTML

House mouse (Mus musculus)

  • Uniformly brown-grey mouse, right down to the tail.
  • Typical mouse profile, small feet with big eyes and ears and a pointed snout.
  • Its almost hairless tail is the same length as its body but is thicker and scalier than the tails of other species of mice.
  • Strong smelling – you will know if they are sharing your house with you!
  • Diet: insects (beetle larvae, caterpillars etc.) carrion, vegetation, berries, nuts and seeds.

Credit: Jonathan Coombes / WTML

Field mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

  • Less uniform than house mouse with sandy brown fur and a white to grey belly.
  • Tail roughly the same length as head and body.
  • Back feet are large which gives a good spring when leaping.
  • Cautious, always sniffs the unfamiliar before approaching.
  • Field mice thrive in woodland, rough grassland and gardens.
  • It stores berries and seeds in the autumn in underground burrows or sometimes in old birds' nests.
  • No strong smell.
  • Diet: seeds, snails, insects, fruit, berries, nuts and fungi.

Credit: Edo Schmidt / Alamy Stock Photo

Harvest mouse (Micromys minutus)

  • Blunt nose, short, rounded, hairy ears and golden-brown fur.
  • Tail almost as long as body.
  • Nests are spherical and made of tightly woven grass and are elevated from the ground in tall grasses.
  • Lives in long, tussocky grassland, reed beds, hedgerows and around woodland edges.
  • Diet: seeds, fruits and invertebrates. 

Credit: Buiten Beeld / Alamy Stock Photo

Yellow-necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis)

  • Easily confused with the more common wood mouse, and the two were only identified as separate species in 1834.
  • Distinguish it from the wood mouse by its collar of yellowish fur, which forms a bib on the chest that can be quite difficult to see.
  • Yellow-necked mouse may also be larger in general and lighter in colour (but this only helps if you've got them side by side!).
  • You're only likely to come across this mouse in southern England, parts of the Midlands and south Wales.
  • Diet: buds, seeds, nuts and small insects.

Voles - distinguishing features

  • Small eyes, short tail, small ears, rounded snout.
  • There are four species of native vole in the UK. The bank vole, field vole and water vole are the only species that occur on mainland Britain. The fourth species is the Orkney vole which is found on five of the Orkney Isles.
  • The average life expectancy for voles is between 3 and 12 months. The larger species like the water vole may live for around 18 months.
  • Voles, like mice, are also rodents.

Credit: Anne Marie Kalus / WTML

Bank vole (Myodes glareolus)

  • Bank vole is the smallest UK vole with a reddish-chestnut coat and an off-white underside.
  • Like all voles, it's a stocky little animal with a blunt snout, small eyes and ears. Its tail is short – just half the length of its body.
  • At first sight, they can be confused with field voles, which are greyer with a shorter tail, or wood mice, which have a longer tail and move much more quickly.
  • They can climb bushes in search of food.
  • Diet: fruits, nuts and small insects.

Credit: Stephen Dalton / Alamy Stock Photo

Field vole (Microtus agrestis)

  • Also known as the short-tailed vole, field vole is common species in grassland, heathland and moorland.
  • Much shorter tail than bank vole with shaggier fur and furry ears. It’s usually greyish-or yellowish-brown with a pale grey underside.
  • Less likely to be seen than bank vole as it spends more of its time in runs and burrows. Can be aggressive to other trespassing voles.
  • Diet: grass, seeds, roots and leaves.

Credit: iStock.com

Water vole (Arvicola amphibious)

  • Glossy brown or black fur and blunt muzzle with small, black eyes.
  • Ears are rounded and almost hidden, and it has a dark, slightly furry tail.
  • Water vole has suffered a serious decline in the UK with numbers dropping by 90%.
  • Also known as water rat, it's the largest species of vole in the UK and is sometimes mistaken for brown rat.
  • Lives around water: rivers, streams, ditches and ponds. When it enters the water it makes a distinctive 'plop' sound.
  • Diet: vegetation including grasses, reeds, sedges, bulbs, roots, buds, twigs and fruits. Will also go for frogs and tadpoles. 

Shrews - distinguishing features

  • Small eyes, short tail, small ears, pointed snout.
  • Four species of shrew are native to the UK. Three of these are found on mainland Britain. The fourth, the lesser white-toothed shrew, is a species only found on the Isles of Scilly, Jersey and Sark.
  • Shrews also have a very short life span – around 1 year as an average.
  • Shrews aren't rodents. Instead, they're grouped into an order called Eulipotyphla – commonly known as insectivores – which includes hedgehogs and moles.

Credit: John Cook / WTML

Common shrew (Sorex araneus)

  • Dark brown body with chestnut sides and grey or silver undersides.
  • Short tail only half the length of body.
  • Very active and fast-moving.
  • Found in woodland and grassland.
  • Shrews don’t hibernate, but they do become less active in winter, living in burrows that may have been made by other species.
  • One of the most endearing habits of shrews is the shrew caravan. When moving from nest to nest, babies follow their mother forming a train by holding on to the base of the tail of the shrew in front.
  • Diet: insects, worms, slugs, spiders and larvae.

Credit: Paul Kelly / WTML

Pygmy shrew (Sorex minutus)

  • Distinguish from common shrew by paler, grey-brown fur and a long, slightly hairy tail.
  • Like common shrews, they're lightning quick and active.
  • One of Britain’s smallest mammals (alongside pipistrelle bats).
  • It's territorial and apparently aggressive to fellow shrews. It's known to swipe its tail from side to side if it encounters another pygmy shrew.
  • Diet: insects, spiders, worms, woodlice and other invertebrates.

Credit: Avalon / Alamy Stock Photo

Water shrew (Neomys fodiens)

  • Dense, silky dark grey or black fur with a whitish underside and tufts of white around eyes and ears and large hind feet
  • The only shrew likely to be seen in water.
  • Largest species of shrew in the UK and can grow up to 10cm in length.
  • Elusive and rarely seen.
  • Found throughout mainland Britain (and only parts of Scotland) and on some of the larger islands including the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, Arran, Skye and Mull.
  • Diet: venomous saliva that is capable of paralysing prey such as small fish and frogs.

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