Can Mice See in the Dark? Facts, Science, Tips


Mice are very active at night, foraging for food, finding their way around, meeting new mates. All of this could lead to the idea that mice can see very well in the dark. 

Mice are almost officially blind, and so do not see well at night time. They are only able to see shadows and bright lights in both day and night. However, they have many other skills that help them move around successfully at night.

This may be a shock to many people, as it would certainly appear at first glance that mice can see fine at night if you were to observe either mice from the wilds in your home, but also pet mice. The reason that they are so active at night is that they are nocturnal. 

All nocturnal animals or rodents are more active at night and sleep more during the day. Nocturnal is a Latin word derived from the word nocturnalis which means ‘belonging to the night’.

Many people can attest to this if they live in a home that has an infestation of none domestic mice. Most of the activities will center around the darker hours when humans are less active.

Mice are generally quite scared of humans and can smell them from quite far away. This is not the same for a domesticated mouse. They enjoy the company of humans and other mice. 

mouse on soil at nighttime

So, Can Mice See Well at Night? 

Mice are nearly officially blind, which means they can barely see at all. So, the answer to the question is a resounding no, they cannot see well at night. They struggle to see at night, and also to see during the day. A mouse’s eyes are super sensitive to the bright lights of the day, as well as the noises that are normally heard during the daytime. They can see shadows, and they use this type of sight among other techniques to get around. 

They are particularly averse to bright sunlight. So if you have your own pet mice’s cage near a window where there is tons of light pouring in, be aware of the fact that they can find this disturbing. 

There is a little bit of irony in the fact that mice are nearly blind. They can, as mentioned earlier, see shadows and movement, and can see this for up to 45 meters away! So their sight is somewhat adequate for their needs, coupled with a few other super senses that help them get by very well indeed. 

So How Do Mice ‘See’ if They are Nearly Blind? 

Mice have very clever whiskers, and if you’ve sat and studied your pet mouse, you will notice how much their whiskers wiggle and flicker as they move around their cage searching for this and that. 

Each whisker is super sensitive to objects, and each whisker operates independently of the other. In this way, whiskers can feel objects and decide what they are.

There is a group of muscles at the base of each whisker, and this can cause the whisker to move on its own and not in tandem with the other whiskers. This acts as a kind of sight, enabling the mouse to find food, to search for holes to climb into, and all sorts of things they need to do each day to survive.

Instinctually, mice know that they are small, they also know that they could be easy prey. In this way, their lack of visual sight is made up of other factors, like their whiskers, sense of smell and hearing. 

This is good to know when caring for your pet mice. Making their cage interesting and easy to get around in will enable your mice to have the best possible care. Mice are highly intelligent, they love playing with toys, investigating new things in their cages, and of course, find their food and enjoying it too! 

Mice need to be able to walk around their cage, stand up, sniff things and play, either with toys, other mice or you. They are quite sociable if they are not afraid. 

Mice Have Big Ears

You might not have noticed, but a mouse’s head is quite slim and small compared to their rather large, well-developed ears that move about as they do. Here are some interesting facts about a mouse’s range of hearing. 

A mouse can hear from 1000 hertz to 91 000 hertz, that is indeed a very broad range of hearing. From the very lowest tones to the very highest tones. This is unusual for animals out there in the wild. [Source]

Some animals hear mostly higher frequencies of sound, others mostly hear lower, but mice can hear both. To give you an idea of how unusual this is, here are some scientific facts about other mammals and animals and their ranges of hearing.

A human being can hear lower than a mouse at 64 hertz, but can generally only hear up to 64 000 hertz. That means if a mouse is shrieking at anything above that we cannot hear them. Which is handy for wild mice since they want to avoid humans. 

A dog can hear in the range of 50 hertz to 46 000 hertz. This means your dog has a broad range of abilities for hearing, but it outsmarted by a mouse in the hearing competition!

A bat and a dolphin can hear more frequencies than most, going right up to 120 000 hertz and 150 000 hertz respectively. That means whilst we can hear a lot of dolphin sounds, we certainly cannot hear them all. 

Many larger animals can hear lower pitches, while smaller ones hear higher pitches. Mice can hear very high pitched tones that humans cannot hear, and this can aid them in avoiding predators. This is one of their senses that has been honed to make up for their lack of sight. 

As a mouse age, their hearing degrades, and they can hear less and less. This is tough, since they, in effect, use their hearing as a form of sight. Being able to have a higher pitch range than larger predators enables mice to communicate with each other and not be heard. They can remain hidden since they struggle to see any potential predators.

It is important when you own pet mice that you do not make too much noise around them. They can find this startling and threatening. Be aware of this when you for example opening their cage or just hanging out around them. You will notice that mice will sleep a lot during the day, snuggling down away from things until nighttime when things quieten down more. 

mouse on the forest floor at night

Mice Have a Keen Sense of Taste 

Mice can taste very well too. That is why often mousetraps do not work if they are loaded with poison. In this way, mice will use their sense of taste to keep themselves safe and away from danger. Scientists have noticed that mice have at least four taste senses, which is quite high as humans have five. 

Also, remember that your mouse will use their sense of taste as another way of knowing what is going on around them in order to make up for their poor eyesight.

Your Pet Mouse Has a Great Sense of Smell 

Mice have one of the best smelling abilities of all animals. They can smell humans quickly and will avoid them. If they are your pets, they will get used to your smell and not avoid you!

Mice use smell for all sorts of things, communicating with their fellow mice, as well as for avoiding being harmed in any way. They also can sniff out their food, and you will often see them wiggling their noses and sniffing about their cage to find out what is going on around them. 

With this, they don’t need to be able to see in the dark when they can sense things in this way. [Source]

A Mouse’s Paradise is Their Home

Here are some tips based on their needs for a perfect home for your pet mouse or mice:

All of this information is useful when setting up your mouse’s perfect home. Mice love being sociable and can smell and feel when their mice friends are about. So for this reason, a larger cage is desirably filled with a few friends to keep him company. 

Once they identify their human as their owner, they will know their owner by smell mostly, and can sniff them out very quickly as well as from far away. They love spending time with their owners, but remember they hate being picked up by their tails, which a lot of people believe to be true. Instead, they prefer to be picked up by your hand with their feet firmly placed on your palm.

They will then lean up and sniff, whilst whiskering to see what’s going on and what is around them. 

They have a keen sense of taste, so will enjoy a variety of foods and will taste and enjoy each one, showing a preference for others. Their cage should be large enough for them to run about in, nest, and also play and investigate, which they will do with their poor eyesight, their whiskers and their sense of smell. 

Mice are most active at night, so you’ll probably see more of them during the evening than in the daytime. They need good, non toxic materials to build nests to hide away from direct sunlight. 

Mice are highly intelligent, and by using all of their senses they get by very well indeed. They might not have perfect eyesight, but they have been given a lot of other senses to enable them to keep safe, find mates and food with ease. 

Barry Gray

Barry is a freelance writer from Scotland. He has written about pets for over a decade, and his work has been turned into a range of ebooks, courses, and material for diplomas. Barry is passionate about all animals, but particularly dogs, fish, rabbits, birds and spiders. You can find out more about Barry at https://mercurypets.com/our-writers/

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