Smoky Mouse (Konoom)
Unlike many other mouse species in Australia, the Smoky Mouse (Pseudomys fumeus), commonly known as the Konoom is not considered a pest. In fact, this native mouse, once relatively common in south-eastern Australia, is now a critically endangered species. It's under threat both as a result of changes in its habitat and as a result of predation from feral carnivores, notably cats and from foxes, which are not native to Australia but were introduced for hunting.
If you're lucky enough to see a smoky mouse you don't need to fear that it will be a problem in your home. If fact, if you choose to do so, you might even be able to become involved in the conservation efforts for this tiny, useful native mouse.
Characteristics of the smoky mouse
- Common name: Smoky Mouse
- Scientific name: Pseudomys fumeus
- Colour: Pale grey or blue-grey above, belly grey to white, dark hair around the eye
- Weight: Ranging from 38 gm to 68 gm, average 52 gm
- Size: Average body size around 90 mm, tail 140 mm
- Diet: Omnivorous; Eats seeds, fruit, flowers, some invertebrates and fungi;
The smoky mouse is most easily recognised by its fur colour, which as the name suggests is a smoke-like grey, it has light pink feet and pink-grey ears. The long tail is also pink with a brown stripe along the top. Also characteristic of the smoky mouse is the dark muzzle and dark grey to black ring around the eyes.
Habitat and regional distribution
Smoky mouse habitat
The smoky mouse has been found in a range of different ecological niches but its preferred habitat seems to be heathland and heath habitats, along ridge tops. It also lives in woodlands or forests providing there is a healthy and diverse understorey and has been observed in adjacent wetter fern gullies. Two strong requirements for a successful smoky mouse habitat appear to be well-developed healthy understoreys and a stable environment. Without these, the population cannot thrive.
Smoky mouse distribution
Determining exactly where the smoky mouse is found is complicated by the fact that success rates from trapping studies are low, making the smoky mouse hard to detect. It is known that the population has declined and the species is under threat.
Current smoky mouse distribution in Australia is believed to be limited to New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. The smoky mouse in Victoria is thought to be extinct in two of its four former locations but it can still be found in fragmented areas of the Central Highlands and in the Grampians.
Smoky mouse conservation challenges
It appears that a combination of different factors is involved in the population decline of the smoky mouse, these include:
- Predation - By house cats and introduced foxes. Native carnivores may also prey on smokey mice but to a less significant extent.
- Loss of habitat - As a result of vegetation clearing, particularly for timber.
- Fragmentation of habitat - From vegetation clearance and new development, reducing the ability of the species to colonise new areas.
- Inappropriate fire regimes - Reducing or eliminating some of the plant species required by the smoky mouse to survive and thrive.
- Climate change - Resulting in warmer temperatures, less rainfall, further changes in native habitats and the threat of more severe wildfires.
The smoky mouse is less able to meet environmental challenges and changes than many rodent species due to its relatively low and slow breeding rate. Unlike house mice which can have litters of up to twelve or more young, a smoky mouse litter consists of up to four young. Smokey mice only breed in the spring rather than year-round, so only reproduce once or twice in a season. In the wild, the population is sometimes threatened by food shortages in the late spring.
Why the smoky mouse matters
Apart from the desirability of protecting native species and habitats, even small creatures can play a vital part in their environment. The smoky mouse helps keep forests healthy by aerating the soil through digging and making burrows, this increases water penetration. They also spread truffle spores in their droppings and the truffles themselves are in a symbiotic relationship with forest trees helping them to take up water and nutrients. This tiny mouse plays a significant role in the healthy life of its habitat.
Plans for fighting extinction
There is a national recovery plan for the smoky mouse, with various strategies involved to better understand the species and increase populations so that the smoky mouse will be part of Australia's future. Key steps to the recovery plan include:
- Determining the current distribution and health of the smoky mouse population through survey and genetic analysis;
- Identifying sites where there are smoky mice and establishing long term monitoring programs;
- Identifying triggers that indicate that further conservation efforts are needed;
- Focused control of excess populations that prey upon the smoky mouse, e.g. feral cats and foxes;
- Supporting captive breeding programs so that in the future smoky mice can be reintroduced into the wild;
- Identifying sites that were formerly part of the smoky mouse range where they can be reintroduced;
- Protecting smoky mouse habitat sites.
Find out more about the national recovery plan for the smoky mouse here.
How you can help
If you'd like to be involved in the smoky mouse recovery program you can help by raising awareness about the smoky mouse in your community, visiting zoos or making donations to support conservation campaigns and joining local conservation groups that carry out fundraising or do take practical actions to support local wildlife in your area.
- The smoky mouse is a native Australian species that is not considered a pest;
- The smoky mouse is currently a critically endangered species;
- There is a national recovery plan for the smoky mouse, actions are being undertaken to secure its future;
- Smoky mice are not a pest, but many other rodent species including house mice and rats are. If you have any pest problem you can always contact Fantastic Pest Control.