Dear Readers, you might remember that last year I did a piece on mosquitoes on the London Underground system, and how they were actually starting to develop into a separate species. But what’s happening with our old friends, the Underground Mice? I remember watching them from when I was a small child and first travelling on the ‘Tube’, and being fascinated with how quickly they moved. They tucked themselves into the tiniest of spaces when they heard or felt a tube train approaching, and no doubt gorged themselves on all the debris from the sandwiches and burgers that people eat while they’re travelling. I am full of admiration for photographer Sam Rowley, who spent five nights laying on the platforms of various underground stations taking photos of the rodents, much to the bemusement of passers-by.
There are about half a million mice living in the tube system, and they lead lives that are often brutal and short – mice often have missing tails and feet following rather too close encounters with the trains, and clearly their food isn’t of the highest quality. Back in 2016, when tubes on some lines started to run all night, Professor Bill Wisden of Imperial College London was worried that the rodents might be adding sleep deprivation to their woes – previously, there had been a gap of about six hours when there was no tube service, which meant the mice could forage in peace and get some well-deserved shut-eye. Then there was the pandemic, when I suspect that no trains and far fewer passengers with their messy food must have led to a population collapse. It would have been interesting to monitor what went on.
Although mice are technically vermin, many Londoners have affectionate feelings towards the Underground Mice – there’s something about their tenacity and feistiness that reminds us of how necessary these qualities are to survive in the Big City, and I think it’s no wonder that the photo below (again by Sam Rowley) won the ‘People’s Choice’ award at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2020. These miniature dramas are going on around us all the time, if we have the time to ‘stop and stare’.