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Winter may sound death knell for giant NSW mouse plague

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

The onset of winter could spell the end of the mouse plague overwhelming western New South Wales, a mammal ecology expert has predicted.

Warning: Some images may disturb

The onset of winter could spell the end of the mouse plague overwhelming western New South Wales, a mammal ecology expert has predicted.

Spurred on by warm temperatures and plentiful stocks of food, hundreds of thousands of mice have been marauding across farms in regional NSW since last year's bumper harvest.

Videos of mice "raining" down from inside Australian hay barns have made global headlines this week, amid reports of people being bitten as they sleep and rodents inflicting untold damage to homes and properties.

A $50 million support package has been pledged by the NSW Government to help combat the mouse plague, which has seen some farmer's crop devastated.

READ MORE: Mouse plague decimating crops, destroying livelihoods

"Live fast, die young," is how Professor Karl Vernes, a senior lecturer in mammal ecology and conservation at the University of New England, describes the lifestyle of mice.

"The plague will end," he said, "but as for when, it is hard to know".

Professor Vernes said past experience of mouse plagues showed "when they go, they go reasonably quickly, suddenly they are gone".

"But it doesn't seem to be happening with this," he said.

"This one seems to be pushing on a little bit."

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In end, Professor Vernes said, Mother Nature may prove more ruthlessly efficient at culling the mice than mass baiting efforts and poisoning with rodenticide.

"Winter should have an impact," he said, pointing to the change in season reducing food and nullifying shelter.

"But there will be lag time," he warned.

The mouse plague may not die off in sufficient numbers from the cold until late winter or even early spring, he said.

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Disease could also help wipe out the plague.

"Mice are driven by the same constraints as other animals - food, shelter and resources," Professor Vernes said.

"If those things are there they will go on breeding."

From mice contaminating food and water, to human diseases spread by mice, the plague is affecting more than crops. The plague is also causing rural communities huge stress.Customers at Bunnings across regional NSW have been clearing shelves of traps and rodent bait as exasperated residents try to control the mouse plague.

Mice respond very quickly to swings and changes in resources and environment.

Bountiful harvests in NSW and Queensland farms meant mice were "primed and ready" to "make hay while the sun shines," Professor Vernes said.

"That's what they have evolved to do, they make rapid use of an increase in resources.

"We live with rodents all over the world. Everywhere we are, they are. Normally we don't notice them."

Professor Vernes said baiting and poisoning the mice may have a limited effect if other food supplies were available.

"I'm not sure it is going to knock out the mice, let's wait and see."

The Country Women's Association of NSW said the mouse plague is not just an economic crisis, but that it is turning into a health crisis. Favourable conditions that led to a bumper harvest are thought to be the same conditions that helped mouse populations thrive.

Last week the NSW government announced a $50m rescue package, free poison for farmers and mice bait rebates of $1000 for small businesses and $500 for households.

Professor Vernes cautioned use of rodenticide could have a "concerning flow-on effect" on other fauna.

Farmers were in a really tough position, he added.

"Do you try and put in a new crop knowing that will bring in mice?"

Residents on the outskirts of Armidale in northern central NSW, a city home to University of New England, had reported an uptick in mouse sightings, Professor Verne said.

"My daughter lifted up her pillow and saw a mouse run out."

"In some fields and paddocks on the edges of Armidale we are certainly seeing mice moving in.

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"They are making themselves known but not to the extent we see on the news."


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Source: 9News

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