Mouse Tail vs Rat Tail – 7 Key Differences

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rat in some dried leaves

While they are both rodents, people can sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between a mouse and a rat. There will often be a size difference, but what happens if you just catch a glimpse of their tail?

Well, there are a number of key differences you should be looking out for when comparing a mouse tail vs rat tail. So, we are going to check out 7 of them to help make your life easier when it comes to identifying which rodent you have around your home or garden.

Now, if you’re comparing a Mickey Mouse tail with, say, Remy from Ratatouille, you can probably manage to tell the difference without too much trouble (I’ve never seen Mickey Mouse whip up a confit byaldi, for example).

In the real world, being able to identify a rat or mouse is something you want to do if you are considering getting one for a pet. Even though they are both from the rodent family, they require slightly different things when caring for them.

Clearly, there’s a whole lot more to identifying a rat or mouse than just looking at their tail. However, you will notice that there are more differences than most people would have initially anticipated.

So, let’s look into all of this tail stuff.

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A Mouse Tail is Longer

When we say a mouse’s tail is longer, we are talking about it in comparison to the rest of its body. Of course, a small mouse wouldn’t have a longer tail than a large rat. Instead, it’s all about percentages.

Just how long is a mouse tail? It’s roughly the same length as the size of its body and head put together. That proportion doesn’t apply to the rat as it comes up as less than the sum of those two parts added together.

In terms of actual length, a rat’s tail can grow longer than a mouse’s. Typically, how long a mouse tail will grow can vary between 5 cm and 10 cm. The tail on a rat can vary from 8 cm up to over 25 cm on the larger varieties. However, the average is substantially shorter than 25 cm, so it’s relatively rare to see a rat with that length of tail.

This is something you will see with the naked eye. If you have the chance to see the whole of the rat and mouse, then it probably won’t sit right with you when you see it in real life. 

So, if you saw a mouse and a rat side by side, then you would see this balance in action. It’s a deceptive fact that the rat tail is longer as we look at the length of the entire body and notice when something appears out of sync. 

Thankfully, there’s much more to determining a rat tail vs mouse tail than how it measures up to the rest of their body.

A Mouse Tail is Thinner

Another main difference is the thickness of the tail in question. Here, the tail on a mouse is going to be thinner when compared to that of a rat. 

This is something that will be easy to spot. The tail on a rat just looks chunkier in nature, and that’s because it is. Mouse tails appear more fragile than the tails you will see on rats. This even applies in proportion to the thickness of their body.

Remember, a mouse is not a thin little rodent. It will still carry some weight on its body and, at times, will be more slender than a rat by comparison.

But the fact that the tail on a rat is thicker doesn’t mean they use their tail for different reasons. Both a rat and mouse will use their tail for balancing, along with a whole host of other important factors, but there is one area that explains why a mouse tail is thinner.

That reason is because of the surface area a rat needs on its tail to help its body temperature. This is something we will come back to later on, as it plays an important role in the overall health of a rat. Luckily for a mouse, it won’t have the same concerns.

So, the fact the tail is thinner is something that really does stand out when comparing the two.

A Mouse Tail Often Matches the Color of its Body

This is another cool difference between the two, and it’s all to do with the color of the tail. You will often find that the tail of a mouse is going to closely resemble the color of its body. That just does not happen when you are dealing with a rat.

Actually, with a rat, it’s often going to be the case that their tail is lighter in color than the rest of their body. You may also notice that the tail has a pink color to it, and that’s not something you will typically get with a mouse.

In fact, the color of the tail will help anybody work out whether it’s a rat or a mouse that they are dealing with. 

brown rat close up

A Mouse Tail Has Hair

Aside from the color, another key difference between a mouse tail vs rat tail is that a mouse’s tail will often have hair on it, while a rat’s tail is hairless.

That contributes to the color difference, as it makes sense that the tail of a mouse is going to have the same color hair as the rest of its body. Also, it lets you see the real color of their skin when you have a rat.

So, if you just catch a glimpse of the tail, then stop and think whether it had hair on it. That’s a surefire way of being able to tell the difference between a rat and a mouse.

You see, a rat uses its tail to help regulate its body temperature. It needs it to be hairless to stop it from overheating at various times. The mouse does not have the same issues, so having hair on their tail won’t cause them any problems.

This is all to do with the fact that rats do not sweat. They need to use other mechanisms to cool down. Their tail plays an integral role in all of that.

A Rat Tail Has a Scaly-Looking Texture

If you were able to remove the hair from the tail of your mouse, then you would notice another major difference between a mouse tail vs rat tail. In this instance, the rat will have a scaly texture to their tail, and that gives it much more of a rough look than you get with a mouse.

A mouse tail is far smoother. Of course, the hair will help with that as well, but the texture is different. However, we understand that you will most likely catch sight of hair before you get to see what lies underneath it all.

The reason why the tail of a rat has a scaly texture is thanks to the amount of oil that is produced in their tail. But the scaly look that comes on their tail can also change over time. This is generally linked to one of two things happening to their health.

First, they may not be carrying out the correct hygiene procedures throughout the day. This leads to a build-up of the oil, and the general look of their tail is going to be pretty poor.

The other reason is that they could be losing some protein in their diet. That can then lead to changes in their tail, whereas mice do not have the same sort of problem when it comes to their own tail.

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A Rat Tail Can Have Two Colors

This is something else to consider, and it’s the fact that the tail of a rat can come in two colors. This is more common with the brown rat, where it will be dark on the top and lighter on the bottom, so it’s not exactly a uniform color.

But a rat tail is not going to be the exact same color across the entire species. There will be some subtle changes to the colors you see, and it’s all to do with the pigment in their skin.

Their skin will change ever so slightly, just like us humans, and that pigment change is then closely reflected in the color of the tail. You can even have two rats from the same family that will then end up having different colored tails, whereas that’s not generally going to happen when it comes to dealing with a mouse.

However, do remember that the mouse has had its skin hidden away because of the hair that appears on its tail. If you see an apparent mouse with a bare tail, then it means something is either wrong with the health of the mouse, or it’s a rat and has been incorrectly called a mouse.

A Rat Tail Can Change Color, If Not Kept Clean

This is the final difference to speak of when it comes to a rat tail vs mouse tail. While a mouse tail is going to stay the same color throughout its life, the same cannot be said for a rat.

For a rat, it’s important that they try to keep their tail as clean as possible. However, if they neglect this part of their daily hygiene, then their tail can, and will, change color.

It’s all to do with dirt getting into the skin, so in that sense, it works the same as when we don’t wash our hands. The dirt on our hands will stain and change the color of our skin, and it will stay like that until we wash them.

A rat goes through the same process, but a mouse really doesn’t have to contend with those sorts of issues when dealing with their own tail. This is all thanks to it being covered in hair, so it protects the skin underneath. It seems that a mouse has the best deal in the tail department.

Mouse Tail vs Rat Tail — Final Thoughts

So, those are 7 rather important distinctions between a mouse tail vs rat tail. As you can see, it’s actually quite easy to tell the difference between them, and you don’t even have to get a good look. A quick glimpse will be enough to allow you to distinguish between the two.

Of course, there are a multitude of other elements you may want to check out, but at least now you are in a good position to choose between a rat or a mouse simply by its tail.

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