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Thursday, October 13, 2011

The harvest mouse surveys his land: Britain's smallest rodent uses straw as stilts to look out for signs of danger

By Simon Tomlinson

Nimble: The harvest mouse grips two stalks with its hind legs and uses his long tail as an anchor while taking time out to scratch its nose

Perched between two stalks, this tiny harvest mouse adeptly uses his tail and hind legs to steady himself while scratching its nose.

These amazing pictures show one of Britain's most elusive and endangered species in its element.

They were taken by amateur photographer Matt Binstead, who is head keeper at the British Wildlife Centre in Lingfield Surrey.

Eyes front: The tiny rodent uses his new height advantage to look out for danger. The species are also able to sense their predators' vibrations through vegetation

He said: 'I love the way it uses the stalks like it's on stilts.

'It is the only British animal with what is known as a prehensile tail that can be used as a fifth limb.

'When wrapped around a stem, it can act as a brake or anchor. This makes it very nimble travelling and feeding in stems of cereals and grasses.

'They have a remarkable ability to sense vibrations through the soles of their feet.

Larger animals in the vicinity can be sensed by vibrations passing through the ground and up the plant on which the mouse is feeding.'

Conservation measures have been in place for the species since 2001 when it was given near-threatened status.

Tennis balls used at Wimbledon have often been recycled to create artificial nests in an attempt to help the species avoid predators, of which it has many.

They can also freeze to death in winter as their nests, found in hedgerows near the ground, do not provide enough protection.

The species don't hibernate, but do sleep for long periods in the winter, waking up during milder spells to eat a little stored food or venture out on a foraging trip.



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