If you have ever seen a cartoon, you’ll know that there is nothing that mice love more than a big hunk of cheese. This image is so ingrained in pop culture that you have probably never questioned whether this was true. Well, it isn’t. All over the world, people are using cheese to bait their mouse traps, and as it turns out, mice don’t even like cheese.
Where the mice love cheese myth originates
So why does everyone think that mice love cheese? Presumably from cartoons. Before modern refrigeration systems, many people stored their food in large storehouses that offered poor protection from rodents. Mice, like other rodents will eat anything that’s available. Including cheese. It is highly likely that an animator drew an image of a mouse eating a triangular hunk of Swiss cheese and the image just stuck. There’s really no scientific proof that mice enjoy cheese over any other food.
Another speculation is that people saw images of Swiss cheese, with its characteristic holes and assumed that small mice had gnawed the holes into the cheese. Again, this is only speculation and has no real basis in fact. The truth is that we have no idea who started the rumor that mice prefer cheese.
What do mice prefer to eat?
According to researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University, who studied food preferences of rodents, mice enjoy sweeter foods like peanut butter, grains, fruits and pastries. This is why people are often told to bait their mouse traps with peanut butter. The study also said that mice have a strong sense of smell and are often revolted by certain types of cheese. Cheese has only been in human existence for about 10,000 years, and mice were certainly eating and surviving long before that. So the notion that mice like cheese is a puzzling one.
A possible source of the myth
Some suggest that the myth of the cheese-loving mouse originated in ancient mythology. In ancient Greece, Apollo’s temples were often filled with tiny white mice and stored under the altars. Apollo’s nickname, “Apollo Smintheus,” is loosely translated to “Apollo the Mouse,” because of his fondness for the rodents. As myth would have it, one of Apollo’s children, Aristaeus, was credited with introducing cheese to the world. As stories were often told through painted pictures, many of the myths often included depictions of mice alongside Apollo and his cheese-making brood. This could explain the seeming connection between mice and cheese.
Baiting mouse traps effectively
Apparently, mice like the good stuff. Specifically, Reese’s™ peanut butter cups. Mice seem to like the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, so many a homeowner has been known to pick up a few of the popular snack when trying to snare a mouse. Mouse food preferences also depend heavily on their geographic locations. Mice in urban centers tend to have a propensity toward fast food. Their most popular choice? McDonald’s Big Macs. Mice in other areas prefer malted milk balls, french fries and whole grain cereal.
Other theories about the mouse/cheese myth
A few other theories abound that explain why people think that mice love cheese. When food is stored in bulk, it’s easier to see teeth marks in wedges of cheese than it is to see the evidence that mice have been frolicking in flour. A mouse can easily take a swipe of peanut butter without detection, but grabbing a bite of cheese leaves more tangible evidence.
Exterminators say that it is highly unlikely that mice prefer cheese to foods more commonly available to them in the wild like seeds and grains. Since only a small percentage of mice in the world have access to homes, where cheese is stored, the idea that mice would prefer cheese is a bit baffling. However, the connection between mice and cheese is strong in cultures all over the world.
Do mice like cheese? Not particularly. Mice will eat cheese, just as they will eat soap, cardboard, cookies or anything else they can sink their teeth into. As it turns out, they would probably rather nibble on your chocolate bars than your cheddar. Whether from ancient mythology or old cartoons, the iconic image of the cheese-loving mouse is likely here to stay.