Mice Don’t Like Cheese

Daven Hiskey September 29, 2012 7
Myth: Mice love cheese and it makes a great bait for mouse traps.

In fact, as any pest exterminator or pet shop owner knows, mice don’t really like cheese at all and they’ll even actively shy away from certain types of cheese (they have a very sensitive sense of smell and certain cheeses give off odors that are repulsive to many types of mice).

According to Dr. David Holmes of Manchester Metropolitan University who recently did a study on whether mice liked cheese or not, while if hungry enough, mice will pretty much eat anything (even nibble on you, cardboard, whatever), most type of mice strongly prefer grains, fruits, and sweet things; certain types of mice will also eat insects and other small animals.  Basically, they like to eat what they’ve been accustomed to eating since before humans started making cheese around 10,000 years ago.

So how did the myth that mice liked cheese get started?  Nobody knows.  It’s been around for a long time, even being mentioned by philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca about 2000 years ago:

“Mouse” is a syllable.  Now a mouse eats its cheese; therefore, a syllable eats cheese…  Without a doubt, I must beware, or some day I shall be catching syllables in a mousetrap or, if I grow careless, a book may devour my cheese!  Unless, perhaps, the following syllogism is shrewder still: Mouse is a syllable.  Now a syllable does not eat cheese.  Therefore a mouse does not eat cheese. -From Seneca’s Letters – Book II Letter XLVIII

The leading theory as to the origin of the mouse/cheese myth, which isn’t based on any actual evidence, is that it probably had to do with people thousands of years ago mostly stocking grains, highly salted meats, and cheese as their food stuffs they kept on hand. The grains and meats were commonly stored in such a way as to keep vermin away.  On the other hand, cheese that needs to “breathe” perhaps was not so securely stored.  Inevitably, a mouse that is hungry enough will eat the cheese, leaving little teeth marks, leading people to think that mice seek out cheese.  But again, this theory is pure speculation and it seems odd that people who would actively protect grains and meats from vermin would start thinking from this that the vermin preferred the thing they weren’t as actively protecting.  So, needless to say, I personally find the next theory more plausible, though who knows really.

Dr. Holmes suggests that the myth may have arisen from some ancient legend or other as mice frequently popped up in various ancient mythologies.  He didn’t specifically offer any suggestions on what myth this may have been from.  But after a little digging, I found one potential connection, albeit a bit tenuous. White mice were often kept under the altars in Apollo’s temples in Ancient Greece.  Apollo himself was often referred to as “Apollo Smintheus”, meaning “Apollo the Mouse”. One of Apollo’s children, Aristaeus, in Ancient Greek mythology is credited with teaching mankind to make cheese, which he learned from the Myrtle-nymphs.  So perhaps the connection between mice and cheese stemmed from some sub-legend in there or some artists depiction of Apollo and Aristaeus, which included mice and cheese in the painting.  Again, nobody really knows, but it’s always fun to speculate.

As to why this myth has seemed to only grow stronger with time, Dr. Holmes notes ,

Cartoonists like to draw little segments of cheese with holes in them and little mice’ faces poking out of them.  They will admit this and they say quite simply it’s a really good image and it’s the kind of image we will continue to use, even though we know mice don’t like cheese.

So it’s possible even early artists included this imagery in paintings simply because it makes a “really good image”.

Whatever the origin, given that mice aren’t overly fond of cheese, it doesn’t exactly make the most effective bait in a mouse trap (and has a side hazard of accidentally injuring your cat, if you have one, given that many house cats love cheese!)

So if cheese isn’t an effective bait for mouse traps, what is?  Turns out, mice go crazy for peanut butter (aside: peanuts are not actually nuts).  They also like chocolate (the sweeter the better).  So one would think from this that Reese’s peanut butter cups might be good bait.  At the same time, it seems a shame to let such delicious goodness be wasted on mice (though depending on trap type, it may be their last meal, so you might as well give them a good little taste before the “snap!”  Or, you know… use humane traps you heartless gravy-eye’d bestially burking bogan.)

On the other hand, one person I know who keeps a couple mice as pets says that their favorite treat is Multi-Grain Cheerios dipped in peanut butter.  They go crazy for them. (Incidentally, she confirmed that unless she has forgotten to feed her mice for a while, they won’t go for cheese, something she learned early on as she had initially thought that they loved cheese and tried to feed it to them.)

Stephen Turner, the managing director of the largest mousetrap distributor in Europe, Pest Control Shop, also noted that “inner city mice” who’ve become very accustomed to surviving on fast food scraps love McDonald’s hamburgers (bits of bun and all).

Procter Rodent Control, on the other hand, besides recommending peanut butter for mouse traps, also states that “Maltesers” work phenomenally well. (For those not familiar, as I wasn’t, Maltesers are similar to Whoppers, basically malted milk balls surrounded by a thin layer of chocolate.)

If you liked this article, and the Bonus Facts below, you might also like:

Bonus Mice and Cheese Facts:

  • Researchers in Israel have successfully trained mice to be used as bomb and drug detectors.  The mice are kept in containers and if the mice detect any explosives or drugs, they will trigger an alarm by pressing a button.  Each mouse can work in four hour shifts and have proven to be more accurate than X-ray machines and dogs at finding explosives and drugs.
  • Despite their reputation for spreading disease and the like, surprisingly, mice are very clean animals.  They clean themselves regularly, not unlike cats, and they organize their homes with specific areas for storing food, going to the bathroom, sleeping, etc.
  • Mice are thought to have originated in Asia then gradually spread through Europe and then to the Americas via stowing away on sailing vessels.
  • Another “mice myth” you might sometimes hear is that mice don’t have bladders; their urine just continually dribbles out.  This myth comes from the fact that mice urinate fairly frequently compared to many mammals.  Regardless of this, mice do in fact have bladders.
  • Mouse urine glows under florescent light.
  • Like cats, koalas, ostriches, and many desert animals, wild mice can typically get most of the water they need simply via food they eat, without needing to drink water directly.
  • The word “cheese” comes from the Latin “caseus”, meaning “cheese”, which in turn likely comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *kwat-, meaning “to ferment or to sour”.
  • Before eating cold cheese (such as cheese just removed from the refrigerator), it is recommended that it be set out for 30-60 minutes to let it reach room temperature.  Much like butter, the fats in cheese become hardened in the refrigerator, which results in much of the smell and flavor of the cheese more or less becoming “locked in”.  Thus, allowing the cheese to reach room temperature will produce a much more flavorful cheese.
  • While many who are lactose intolerant avoid cheese as a rule, this isn’t always necessary except for people who are extremely lactose intolerant.  For example, ripened cheddar cheese has only about 5% of the lactose in the equivalent volume of milk.  Further, various cheeses that are aged for long periods often have almost zero lactose.  That being said, I used to know someone that would become ill if she even had a single sliver of cheddar cheese.  One time in college she unwisely decided that she was going to eat a slice of cheese pizza and consequences be damned… (Having never had cheese pizza, she wondered what all the fuss was about, with so many people seeming to love it.)  After she ate it, she soon nearly had to be hospitalized from the result (severe diarrhea and vomiting that lasted several days and resulted in her becoming extremely dehydrated, among many other unpleasant, persistent symptoms).  All total she was down for the count for nearly a week.  Incidentally, if you’re curious what causes lactose intolerance, you can read up on it here: What Causes Lactose Intolerance
  • Curiously, while you’ll generally hear that eating considerable amounts of cheese will lead to heart disease long term, due to the high amount of saturated fat in cheese, the two countries that lead the world in cheese consumption, France and Greece, (consuming about 7 times The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s recommended amount of cheese per week and about 36% more cheese than Americans on average), also has some of the lowest rates of heart disease of any countries in the world.   It should also be noted that according to a Curtin University of Technology study done in 2009, people who consumed 5 servings per day of cheese, rather than 3, had a significant reduction in abdominal fat, lower blood pressure, and lower blood sugar.  So the idea that cheese is bad for your health is most assuredly still being debated, not unlike the whole “eggs are bad for you / wait eggs are really good for you” waffling that’s been going on the last few decades.
  • The French in particularly consume about 34% more saturated fat than Americans, and yet death rates from coronary heart disease are about 28% lower in France than the U.S.  It has been suggested that this is due to the much higher regular consumption of red wine in France and Greece than the U.S.   Although, perhaps the more likely culprit is that Americans get a much large percentage of their saturated fats from vegetable oil and, even more likely, consume drastically higher amounts of hydrogenated oils and trans fat.  Of course, correlation does not equal causation, so yet another interesting little mystery. This particular mystery has a name, “The French Paradox” (seems like a smashing title for a movie).
  • As to how people first discovered how to make cheese some 10,000 years ago, it’s thought it was probably by accident.  Around this time humans started domesticating goats and sheep. (It would be at least a few thousand years more before we got around to domesticating cattle).  Liquids and food used to be commonly stored in animal skins or animal organs.  This is significant because if you store milk in the stomach of mammals, such as ancient peoples often did, particularly in ruminant stomachs (which includes about 150 species including cattle, goats, sheep, bison, water buffalo, deer, camels, etc.), the rennet in the tissue will cause the milk to turn into curds and whey. (Rennet is simply a set of enzymes that particularly allows mammals to be able to process their mother’s milk, but certain enzymes that make up the rennet, such as protease, will cause the milk to separate into solids (curds) and liquids (whey)).  Even today, cheese makers often use rennet from animal stomachs, particularly calves, to begin the process of making various kinds of cheeses.
  • Because of this potential origin of cheese, it’s thought that the earliest cheeses were very similar to cottage cheese, feta, and other crumbly or “wet” cheeses.

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7 Comments »

  1. Seattle_JC September 29, 2012 at 6:29 am - Reply

    This is hilllariois because In college I used to bait my mousetraps with dry ramen noodles and peanut butter. Worked like a charm.

  2. Umyeah April 5, 2013 at 4:57 am - Reply

    Mice not liking cheese is a bullshit statement and lie. I have 6 pet mice all of which get both bread and cheese (of various types “american, swiss, feta, romano, mexi-mix shredded cheese, etc.”) as treats, and when I give them the cheese they eat it ravenously, and then steal each other’s cheese, and nip at each other and chase each other all over their cages, and fight and squeak and I have to break it up. (I stopped doing that and get each mouse out and feed them it individually now.) From my experience cheese is like drugs to mice. Also, when they get bread at the same time they ignore the bread and eat the cheese first. And yes, they have abundant mouse food, the recommended gray cylinder pellets, at all times. They are not starving and never go hungry. They just plan flat out love cheese. I mean, I could have 6 individuals that just happen to all love it, but that’s proof enough that mice do love cheese. Maybe not all of them – I mean, not all humans even love or like cheese – but some definitely do. So statements like “mice don’t like cheese.” is absolutely ignorant.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey April 7, 2013 at 12:23 pm - Reply

      @Umyeah: Certainly let’s just ignore all the scientifically done studies and go with your tiny sample size and project it to most mice. ;-)

    • salantrax October 16, 2013 at 11:19 am - Reply

      (First off, I really like your myth-poking-hole-in’s. Well written.)

      Actually, a general statement like “[...] mice don’t really like cheese at all” *would* be invalidated by a single example of mice actually loving cheese, which Umyeah describes.

      About the ancient mice described in the letter: Perhaps the mice did love cheese, but evolution favored those individuals that didn’t (given people started putting it in refrigerators and whatnot).

      Another explanation might be found in the fact that consuming dairy is naturally infantile behavour (or so I’ve heard). Although milk is very nutritious, no mammal continues to feed their offspring this way indefinitely; sooner or later the baby mouse starts to look for other food, and the mommy can spend her energy on surviving and making more baby mice. Even humans work this way; a major part of adult humans are lactose intolerant.

      On the other hand, consider a mouse family that lives in an ancient cheese storage. Would the abundance of cheese delay their instinct to start avoiding it (much like the humans that made the cheese for eating)?

      @Umyeah, Were your mice by chance brought up on cheese?

  3. salantrax October 16, 2013 at 11:22 am - Reply

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