From “Tom and Jerry” to “The Farmer in the Dell,” pop culture is full of cheese-loving mice. In fact, the food even has a mouse mascot in its name: Chuck E. Cheese.
But are real mice really fond of nutty, smelly Gruyere? Not exactly.
For starters, not all mice are the same. Mice are a diverse group that make up many different types, including Apodemusthe field mice, and Mus, or standard mice. Each species of mouse is used to its own habitat, like the desert picky mouse (opens in a new tab) (Mus indutus) of southern Africa or the steppe mouse (opens in a new tab) (Music spicilegus) Eastern Europe. But the mouse most familiar to people is the house mouse (Muscle).
Probably the house mouse change in Central and South Asia, it was said Megan Phifer-Rixey (opens in a new tab), an evolutionary biologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia who studies the species. But with the help of people, these rodents have spread around the world – and when it comes to food, they are not particularly picky.
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A house mouse eats almost anything that’s nearby, Phifer-Rixey said. That could include grain, insects, trash — and yes, cheese, if it’s available. But cheese is not a mouse’s favorite food at all, she said.
Instead, house mice seem to really love peanut butter. “They smell good, and they smell pretty strong,” Phifer-Rixey said. In addition, there is plenty of peanut butter protein and fat, which mice find attractive, she said.
Peanut butter is also recommended by many exterminators and pest control specialists as a mouse bait. Phifer-Rixey said she’s heard of some people trying to trap house mice by mixing bacon bits into the peanut butter, and for her research, she’ll add some oats to prevent the traps from getting too sticky.
Where did this ugly story come from?
So, if mice are just ambivalent about cheese, where did the idea of cheese-loving mice come from? Unfortunately, that question does not seem to have a definitive answer.
One seems not proven theory floating around the internet is that people once kept their cheese on open shelves, as opposed to other food being stored in jars or hanging from the ceiling. Because the cheese was readily available to mice, people may have seen mice eating their cheese, giving rise to the modern trope — or so the story goes.
As for when the idea came, it could go back hundreds of years or thousands of years. Some internet slots (opens in a new tab) that the Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca, who lived in the first century AD, seemed to assume that mice love cheese.
“A ‘mouse’ is a syllable,” said the philosopher write (opens in a new tab) in a letter to his friend Lucilius, according to a translation of his works by Richard Mott Gummere, former professor of Latin at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. “Now a mouse eats its cheese; therefore, a syllable eats cheese.”
So this story of mice and cheese has been around for as long as mice and people (and cheese) have been together, from the halls of ancient Rome to the children’s arcades of modern, rodent-inspired suburban America.