Cotton deermouse (Peromyscus gossypinus)

Cotton deermouse
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST

Top facts

  • The cotton deermouse is one of the largest and most robust species of deermouse found in the south-eastern United States.
  • Despite its name, the cotton deermouse is rarely found in cotton fields.
  • The young of the cotton deermouse are born naked and blind, but mature rapidly, attaining about 85% of the adult size by just four weeks of age.
  • The cotton deermouse is an opportunistic omnivore, eating most available food items, from insects and spiders to nuts and seeds.
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Cotton deermouse fact file

Cotton deermouse description

GenusPeromyscus (1)

One of the largest species of deermouse found in the south-eastern United States (5), the cotton deermouse (Peromyscus gossypinus) is a medium-sized (2) (4) (6), heavy-bodied rodent (4). This species gets its genus name, Peromyscus, from two Greek words meaning ‘pouched little mouse’, while its species name, gossypinus, is derived from the Latin word for ‘cotton tree’, and refers to the cottony material found in the nest of the first specimen to be collected (3).

The upperparts of the cotton deermouse are a warm, chestnut-brown to greyish brown (3) (5) (6) (7), contrasting with the underparts and feet which are white to creamy-white (2) (4) (5) (7). The cotton deermouse’s back is more deeply pigmented than its sides (5).

The sparsely haired tail of this species (5) is shorter than the total length of the head and body combined (4) (5), and is generally darker above and paler below (3) (4) (5) (7). The cotton deermouse has big eyes (2) and large, rounded, hairless ears (5). Ridges on the feet enable this species to be an agile climber (2). Juvenile cotton deermice are dusky-grey on the upperparts, turning brown as they mature (5).

There are considered to be seven different subspecies of cotton deermouse, two of which are currently of conservation concern: the Key Largo cotton deermouse (Peromyscus gossypinus allapaticola) and the Chadwick Beach cotton deermouse (Peromyscus gossypinus restrictus) (8)

Also known as
Chadwick Beach cotton mouse, cotton mouse, Key Largo cotton mouse.
Length: 14.2 - 20.9 cm (2) (3)
Tail length: 6.9 - 10.1 cm (3)
17 - 51 g (2) (4)

Cotton deermouse biology

A nocturnal species (1) (5), the cotton deermouse is known to take refuge in ground holes and hollow tree cavities during the day (1), even taking advantage of gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) burrows in south-central Florida (1). As well as being an agile climber (2) (3) (4) (5) (7), the cotton deermouse swims and dives well (2) (3) (7).

The cotton deermouse is one of the most numerous rodents in the south-eastern United States, with its high reproductive rate ensuring a substantial population size (5). This nocturnal species (1) (5) is known to breed throughout the year in many parts of its range (1) (4) (5) (7), but reproduction appears to decline during the hottest (3) (4) (5) (7) and coldest months (5) (7). In the more southern parts of its range, the cotton deermouse breeds mostly from autumn through to the spring (3), whereas in the more northerly parts of its range, breeding occurs between March and October (1).

The cotton deermouse appears to prefer elevated nest sites (1), often in logs, stumps, moss, in old buildings or under loose bark (1) (5), where it builds a spherical nest of leaves and other plant material (5). The gestation period of the cotton deermouse is typically 23 days (1) (2) (3) (4) (5), but may last up to 30 days if the female is nursing a previous litter (1) (4). A female of this species can produce several litters per year (1) (3) (4) (7), usually four or five in total (5), with each containing an average of three or four young (3) (4). However, as few as one and as many as seven young can be born per litter (1) (3) (4) (7).

The young of the cotton deermouse are born pink, naked and blind (4) (5), but grow and mature rapidly (2) (5), reaching about 85 percent of the adult size by just four weeks of age (2). They are weaned at 20 to 25 days old (4) (5), and reach sexual maturity within 1 or 2 months (1) (4). The cotton deermouse has an average lifespan of about four or five months (2), but may live up to a year or more (1) (5).

An omnivorous species (2) (4) (5) (6), the cotton deermouse is opportunistic, eating almost anything that is available (1) (2) (3) including acorns, nuts, seeds, fungi, insects, spiders and snails (5). However, it is thought that this species tends to eat more animal than plant matter (1) (3) (6).


Cotton deermouse range

The cotton deermouse is found in the south-eastern part of the United States, from south-eastern Virginia southward through the Carolinas, down to Florida, and westward to eastern Texas and Oklahoma (1) (5) (8).


Cotton deermouse habitat

Despite its name, the cotton deermouse is not a frequenter of cotton fields (7). A terrestrial and arboreal woodland-dweller (1), the cotton deermouse generally prefers hardwood forests, particularly those in low-lying areas near rivers, as well as swamps (1) (2) (5) (6) (7). This species can typically be found along watercourses where there is an abundance of stumps, logs and dense brush for it to hide and nest in (3) (4). In addition, the cotton deermouse is known to inhabit caves and crevices along rocky buffs or around cliffs (1) (3).


Cotton deermouse status

The cotton deermouse is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Cotton deermouse threats

There are currently no known major threats to the global population of the cotton deermouse (1). However, destruction of habitat for development is known to be threatening both the Key Largo and Chadwick Beach subspecies. Predation by house cats is also thought to be affecting the Chadwick Beach cotton deermouse (8).

Potential future threats to the cotton deermouse include the drainage of bottom wetlands, habitat fragmentation and excessive logging (4).


Cotton deermouse conservation

The cotton deermouse is not considered to be a threatened species, and there are no known conservation measures specifically in place for this rodent. However, it does occur in several protected areas throughout its range (1).

The Key Largo cotton deermouse is classified as a federal and Florida Endangered taxon, and it has been suggested that this subspecies could be helped by maintaining critical tropical hammock forests in the northern part of Key Largo. Recommendations have also been made to determine the number and size of remaining populations of this subspecies (8).


Find out more

Find out more about the cotton deermouse:



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An animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Active at night.
Feeding on both plants and animals.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2013)
  2. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: North American mammals - Cotton deermouse (December, 2013)
  3. Schwartz, C.W. and Schwartz, E.R. (2001) The Wild Mammals of Missouri. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri.
  4. Schmidly, D.J. (2004) The Mammals of Texas. Revised Edition. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
  5. Brown, L.N. (1997) A Guide to the Mammals of the Southeastern United States. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tennessee.
  6. Bowers, N., Bowers, R. and Kaufman, K. (2007) Kaufman Field Guide to Mammals of North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts.
  7. Fergus, C. (2003) Wildlife of Virginia and Maryland and Washington. Part 3. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
  8. Hafner, D.J. (1998) North American Rodents: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, UK.

Image credit

Cotton deermouse  
Cotton deermouse

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