Many animals — notably, the sea turtle — are associated with Florida's coastal habitats. However, few people get a chance to see a tiny, nocturnal beach mouse that depends on the coastal dune system.
The Florida Panhandle's beach mouse subspecies include the St. Andrew beach mouse, Choctawhatchee beach mouse, Santa Rosa beach mouse and the Perdido Key beach mouse.
Beach mice use primary and secondary dunes for food, water, cover and raising young. They often have many burrows throughout the dunes, and forage on seeds, beach plants' fruits and insects.
During the night, they make several trips in and out of their burrows to find and cache food, which also helps with seed dispersal in the dunes.
Due to loss of their primary and secondary dune habitats, all beach mice subspecies — except for one — are classified threatened or endangered. Most of the Santa Rosa beach mouse's habitat is protected within Santa Rosa Island's conservation lands.
Locally, many agencies monitor beach mice populations. Currently, studies are being conducted on the Santa Rosa and Choctawhatchee beach mouse.
Three state agencies just concluded a five-day trapping effort on the Choctawhatchee beach mouse in south Walton County to evaluate populations. They aimed to study movement in heavily beach mice-populated areas and non-native predators' — specifically feral cats, foxes and coyotes — effects on those populations.
This follows a 2011 effort that introduced 50 beach mice from the Topsail Hill Preserve State Park population into the Grayton Beach State Park population. This was to boost the mice's numbers in that area and expand that subspecies' gene pool. Data from the current effort are still being analyzed, but positive results are expected due to healthy beach mice being found.
Parks and other public lands are important for the preservation of beach mice and other coastal dune species that use similar habitats.
Brooke Saari is an agent at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office in Crestview.