Vol 5 No. 48 - August 17, 2005

Officials say beach mice would be nice


By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – It might be the ultimate irony.

Mickey Mouse brought development to central Florida and now a threatened species of mice might bring land preservation to the forefront.

The sand dune and vegetation projects on the beaches are working. Dunes topped with sea grasses are thriving in areas that used to be barren, forming what city officials hope will be a natural barrier against beachfront erosion when storms hit the Island.

These dunes may be home to an endangered species of animal that is being pushed out of its natural habitats by development. Like the dunes themselves, beach mice may become a barrier to beachfront development.

Members of the Scenic Highway Committee discussed beach mice last week. They were told that the animals were reportedly seen on the beach near Gulf Drive and Cortez Road, but nobody has brought forth any evidence. The city would like to find volunteers who might want to gather on the beach and photograph them.

"I need three volunteers who would like to go out at dusk and look for them," said Tjet Martin, a beachfront resident. "We need three witnesses before we can get some help from the state to preserve them."

That help could come from a grant to purchase land that serves as habitat for the mice. In the past, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service offered grants to purchase up to 75 percent of habitat land. Of course, beach mice like to live on the beach and so do humans, so purchasing a piece of Gulf front land in Bradenton Beach could be an expensive undertaking. Nonetheless, Martin and others would love to know if the little critters are out there on those dunes. The more beachfront land the city could purchase, the fewer beachfront properties could be built to block the view of the Gulf. The city's diminishing view of the water from Gulf Drive is one subject that has come up repeatedly in visioning sessions and Scenic Highway meetings.

Currently, the only piece of beachfront land for sale near where the beach mice have reportedly been seen is the property where Trader Jack's used to sit and its price tag is $25 million.

According to a research paper from the University of Florida Extension Office, field mice live in dunes just above the high tide line. Their main threats are coastal development that destroys the dunes. They often live in holes abandoned by crabs.

Beach mice are nocturnal animals that feed at night and sleep in their burrows during the day. They feed on seeds that have fallen from sea oats or climb the plants to harvest seeds still on the stem. They help to distribute sea oat seeds through their droppings.

Beach mice are monogamous and live an average of nine months to a year. They have the ability to disburse several kilometers from their birthplace, giving them a relatively wide distribution potential. They prefer to construct their burrows in mature, sparsely vegetated dunes adjacent to the high tide line and the more densely vegetated dunes further inland.

Martin said she would be glad to go out with any volunteers to document the mice, as long as they have three witnesses. Call city hall at 778-1005 if you're interested.

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