Oct
01
2008

Cute, nautical, and Scandinavian: But probably smaller.
Cute, nautical, and Scandinavian: But probably smaller.Courtesy hans s
So… we’re learning about genetics, aren’t we? We can’t help it—here we have see-through frogs, there we have genetically engineered vegetables, here we have a fatherless child with the same hair color, eye color, and blood type as me. Genetics are all around us these days, in our schools, in our dinners, and calling our lawyers. As much as we might try to hide from it, the subject is unavoidable.

It’s nice, then, when some aspect of this genetic tsunami can take our minds off of all the tricky stuff. Things like mutant frogs are fun (All those legs! Somebody give them their own cartoon!), but they never last long (The frogs tend to die. Cancel the frog show.)

I think, however, that I may have found a winner: Viking mice. They’re genetically remarkable, and they’re lifespan is the same as any other mouse: about 2 or 3 years. Somebody start work on a Viking Mouse cartoon!

So what we have here is your common house mouse. The house mouse evolved into a variety of different strains as it spread into Western Europe about 3,000 years ago, during the Iron Age. Little French house mice learned to wear berets and smoke cigarettes, German mice developed a love of sausages and efficiency, and so forth; the Iron Age was a wonderful time, and it birthed many of our favorite cultural stereotypes. However, something interesting has come up in a recent genetic study of British house mice.

The surprising result of a nationwide rash of mouse paternity cases, the mice of Britain were surprised to find that they themselves were the products of unexpected parents. Studying their mitochondrial DNA (traceable genetic material from the mother’s side), it appears that most mice from mainland Britain are closely related to mice from Germany (the descendants of little Saxon mice?). Mice from the Orkney Islands of Northern Scotland, however, were found to be “Viking mice,” genetically similar to mice from Norway. And it makes sense—the Orkneys were an important center of the Norwegian Viking “kingdom,” back in the 11th and 12th centuries. These little mousies are the descendants of the warlike Viking mice, who hitched rides across the North Sea in the holds of Viking longboats a thousand years ago. Or… maybe they had their own tiny boats… Viking mice!

We pretty much already knew that Vikings were in the Orkneys at that time, but the genetic evidence from the mice are is a good example of how non-human DNA (mitochondrial DNA in particular) can be a tool for tracking other historical human migrations, and… and…

Just picture those little Viking mice. Tiny helmets, curly little beards, squeaky battle cries… they must have been adorable. Just to see them slaughtering little monk mice, it must have been too cute.

Oh, also, while we’re on the subject of house mice—I noticed this little section in Wikipedia’s article on them. After being accidentally introduced to the south Atlantic Gough Island, house mice, which normally have a body length of about 3 inches, began growing “unusually large” and feeding on albatross chicks. The mice kill the chicks, which can be about a meter tall, by “working in groups and gnawing on them until the bleed to death.” Talk about Viking mice.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Thor's picture
Thor says:

The problem with Viking mice is that they rarely can convert on third down.

posted on Thu, 10/02/2008 - 10:40am
Lettgirl's picture
Lettgirl says:

Lett girl

I wonder where Minnesota mice have relatives? Are they different on the Iron Range than the Twin Cities? What a great research project!

posted on Fri, 10/03/2008 - 5:53pm
Alice's picture
Alice says:

" they’re lifespan is the same as any other mouse"

change to their lifespan, please.

Love the image of mice with Viking helmets !

posted on Mon, 04/06/2009 - 10:43pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Oh, man...

No, I won't change it; I won't try to paper over this grammatical tragedy. I will, however, gladly offer up the "JGordon just got served... By You" medal of honor. Enjoy it.

I must have been on drugs when I wrote this.

We might as well take it a couple steps further, though, as long as we're walking down this greasy highway. For the record, let's say that it should have been, "their lifespans are the same as those of any other mice."

It's its it is all so embarrassing, isn't it?

posted on Tue, 04/07/2009 - 1:36am

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