So, we have a mouse problem in our attic. I set traps routinely to keep the population down. We have taken pains to exclude them by sealing cracks and holes, etc., but they still manage to find their way in somehow. Alas.

In any case, I find myself wondering this. More and more frequently, I find the traps disturbed, the bait taken, evidence of mouse activity, but no dead mice. Clearly some mice are able to take the food without getting snapped, or they have learned how to set off the traps and then take the food. It seems to be happening more and more, which makes it seem like they are getting smarter.

I'm curious about this. Could I make the case that the mice who successfully steal sunflower seeds and peanut butter from me are more likely to successfully mate, and this forms a process of artificial selection? There are quite a few uncontrolled variables, of course. Here are just 3:

  • Surviving in the woods all summer long until fall, when they come indoors is probably a greater effect.
  • There are other houses around, all bordering the same large woodland area, and so plenty of other and different opportunities to get food.
  • I am probably not setting the traps exactly the same way each time, nor are all the traps equally sensitive.

BUT if there were to be a controlled experiment with a specific population of mice, calibrated traps, etc., how many generations would it take for "mousetrap-aware" mice to evolve?

NB - I am not suggesting that anyone undertake this study, as I'm sure it would violate many ethical boundaries!


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think evolutionary pressure in urban environments is a truly fascinating area of research. Nonetheless I am afraid the current question is open for discussion and won't fit in too well on this site I reckon. Adding your own research efforts so far can help focus the question and shape it into a more answerable format. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Sep 17, 2022 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ I have not attempted any research on this, lacking both the scientific background and the ability to control the experiment $\endgroup$
    – nuggethead
    Sep 17, 2022 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ You need to distinguish between evolving and learning. The traits to evade traps would not be lost if there was a single generation of rats not exposed to traps, but any learning would be lost (unless mice did something like explicitly pass on knowledge like humans do). In the same way human did not evolve from being able to ride horses to being able to drive cars. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Sep 17, 2022 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ Have you considered the possibility that something else is removing the food? In addition to rodent pests, leaving food out in the open could be attracting insect pests, like ants. I've personally witnessed ants clean the peanut butter off mousetraps, and it doesn't take long once they've discovered it. $\endgroup$
    – MikeyC
    Sep 22, 2022 at 16:23


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