Mice on the Underground

An Underground Mouse (Photo by Sam Rowley)

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.

Photo by Sam Rowley

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’.

9 thoughts on “Mice on the Underground

  1. Claire

    Wonderful to discover the work of this photographer!
    As a teenager, I was excited to discover mice in the Paris underground ( never seen rats in the underground, rats seem to prefer outdoor life, streets and gardens ).
    Mice are all around us. Yesterday, as I was doing my stint in the food coop, I was asked to clean in the store room where mice had attacked some oat flakes bags- 6 kgs wasted-
    So, mice can be troublesome ? All the same, to me, mice only evoke sympathy, nice images like the «  Church mice » ( even though that is very anthropomorphic)…

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Mice do what mice do, eh – apparently cats were domesticated once we started farming and had a surplus of grain for the mice to feed on, so it’s been a very long battle. I love them, personally – they have such hard lives, what with every predator regarding them as a snack.

  2. chrisswan94

    I have a lot of affection for small rodents. As a student, I rescued four laboratory mice who led short but luxurious lives in my care. More recently, we had a field mouse with a mangled leg, courtesy of one of our cats, until he was about five years old. Mousey allowed me to observe him closely and although never tame, he was bold and provided us with a unique window on a world rarely seen. His favourite fruit was strawberry, his favourite nut was brazil. Although he would have had a very difficult, and doubtless short, life outside of captivity, he was well-cared for including vet treatment for a chest infection when he was quite old in mouse years. If you are wondering how you give a mouse an antibiotic injection, I now know! Our colony of field mice still live under the hedge, where they have been for generations, mostly giving the cats the slip.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I love this! Well done! We found a wood mouse in the big, deep trough where we kept the bird food once – he was extremely fat, but of course also trapped (and I imagine very thirsty). He ran off when we rescued him, and we made sure the lid was taped up subsequently to prevent any more accidental incursions…

  3. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    I don’t recall seeing any mice when I lived in London, but them like (almost) everyone else, I was too busy rushing from one place to another.
    We try to keep our doors closed now, otherwise we have mice entering the house. There are rabbits in the garden too, much to the annoyance of my gardening wife. She has to protect the plants with netting and cloches etc. It’s an ongoing battle!

  4. Anonymous

    I remember watching a couple of mice running around the platform at Holland Park tube and also rats at Hillingdon!


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