If you think this looks like a dead mouse in a jar, you would be perfectly correct. It is in fact a dead mouse in a jar, but it is not just any old dead mouse. It is in fact a dead spiny mouse of the genus Acomys, and once, not that many years ago, this spiny mouse was merrily skipping about along with a bunch of colleagues in a tank in the spare bedroom at the headquarters of the Centre for Fortean Zoology in North Devon. But – and this is where the plot thickens – as in so many others cases when it comes to animals in the pet trade, nobody knew for sure what species of spiny mouse this was. There are 21 different species you see, so it is not entirely irrelevant. As a matter of fact there are quite a number of species of animals in the pet trade, which have been known and bred for years, but still await formal scientific description and recognition.
Anyway, I digress, and we must get back to the mouse in hand… case in hand. Mouse – whatever! Once during a visit to the CFZ HQ, the spiny mouse became a subject of discussion, and I was given a hair-sample which I would study in an attempt to identify the exact species. This I tried to do on and off for several years, bit with absolutely no luck. I could not match the hairs of the CFZ mouse to any known species of which I could get comparative hair-samples. In the end I told the CFZ people, that if we should ever have any chance of a proper ID, I would need a complete animal.
So, more time went by, and one day, one of said mice keeled over and died, and a thorough examination was now possible. But it turned out to be much easier said than done. Some of the recognized species of spiny mice are so similar it is not always possible to separate them. A DNA-examination would of course solve the problem, but scientific grade DNA-tests cost money, lots of money, and we dearly hoped it would be possible to establish the identity of the mice without having to fork out large amounts of cash.
Alas it wasn’t – not completely anyway, although some very nice people at the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen did their very best to help me. The mouse is either Acomys cahirinus or Acomys cilicicus, and that’s about as close as we are going to get, unless I can persuade a DNA-researcher that the mouse is of sufficient scientific interest to do a DNA-test for free. I happen to think that the mouse is in fact a hybrid of the two mentioned species, as I have never been able to match the hairs completely to either of the two species, although there are similarities in both directions. And hybrids are always interesting, although if the mouse had been wild caught, it would have been even more interesting. Under the artificial conditions of captivity, almost anything in possible.