Maybe the Daddy Mouse Had Four of the Babies.

My Mom said she was going to send in something I’d just said to Readers’ Digest’s, “Laughter Is the Best Medicine.”

Pet Mice

Pet Mice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought it was logical, not funny.

My Mom had decided she wanted dancing mice as pets.

Dancing mice were called that because they seemed to chase their tails.

It has been speculated that they have a hereditary inner ear disease that interferes with their balance, so they lean to the left or right when they run.

They were endlessly fascinating to watch.

They did not bite and were cute, warm, furry animals that nestled in your hands when you picked them up.

Click here for a YouTube video of dancing mice.

As it happens, Robert Yerkes, the psychologist who eventually started a habitat for primates in Florida, where one of the first chimpanzees being taught language came from, wrote about dancing mice in his first book, The Dancing Mouse: A Study in Animal Behavior, published in 1907.

This work led to the eventual formulation of the Yerkes-Dodson law, published in 1908, describing the relationship between stress and performance.

This is the original Yerkes-Dodson curve based...

This is the original Yerkes-Dodson curve based on the original evidence from Yerkes and Dodson 1908. The Hebbian version of this curve became popular sometime after the 1950’s. The Hebbian curve left out the top line showing that increased arousal did not adversely impact performance during simple tasks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He found that, up to a point, stress and increased attention, what he called arousal, increase performance. Then, it reduces performance.

Click here to see the original dancing mice pathway built to find out the relationship between stress and performance, by training mice to recognize the difference between a white doorway and a black doorway.

Subsequent studies have shown performance under stress for simple tasks continues to improve, while the ability to perform complex tasks degrades as originally predicted after the initial improvement.


Mom didn’t want to keep the pet dancing mice in her bedroom.

My brothers made a plywood and glass-sided cage with a screen for the top.

I kept them in my room and changed the newspapers and sawdust at the bottom of their cage.

I made sure they always had food and water.


When the pair of mice started having litters of five or six mice once a month, Mom suggested I take the babies to school and sell them for a quarter apiece – a week’s allowance.

We quickly learned that not all the children’s parents wanted them to breed mice, so there were a few returns. We also had to determine what sex they were shortly after they were born.

We painted the tips of their tails with red fingernail polish if they were girls.

Most wanted either a boy or girl, or a pair of the same sex. A few wanted mixed pairs, sensing the entrepreneurial opportunity I’d introduced.


One month, there were eight mice in the litter. Mom exclaimed, “How in the world did she have eight babies!?”

“Maybe the Mom had four and the Dad had four,” I suggested innocently.

Mom roared.

I don’t know if it ever made it into Reader’s Digest.

Two years later, when we moved to Texas, we sold the parents and the cage to a young, enterprising neighbor.

What pets did you have when you were growing up?

What were their names?

What pets do your grandchildren have?

To you and sharing the companionship of pets with your grandchildren.

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Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Click here to order my book of affectionate, candid advice from mothers and grandmothers, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers”


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