This can be difficult for the novice. However, here are a few tips that can help you distinguish them.
The house mouse (Mus musculus
) has the classic "mouse profile" but does not have the separation between colors on the dorsal (top) and ventral (bottom) sides. They are uniformly gray, even the tail. The coloring scheme, as well as the location (near homes), is a pretty good giveaway.
All of the Peromyscus
species have white feet, usually white undersides, and brownish upper surfaces. Their tails are relatively long, sometimes as long as the head and body. The deer mouse and some other species have a distinct separation between the brownish back and white belly. Their tails are also sharply bi-colored. It is difficult even for an expert to tell all of the species apart.
In comparison to house mice, white-footed and deer mice have larger eyes and ears. They are considered by most people to be more “attractive” than house mice, and they do not have the characteristic mousy odor of house mice. All species of Peromyscus
cause similar problems and require similar solutions.
Meadow voles (Microtus
spp.), or meadow mice, tend to be larger and have a very short tail (less than an inch, and obvious compared to the body length) and very small ears. It is relatively rare for them to be in dwellings, but it can occur.
There are other species of mice, but these are the major ones. A field guide, such as the Peterson Field Guide to the Mammals
, is useful if you want to be certain as to what you have.