Science and conservation for the world’s 2800 small mammal species

Rodents: Family Zapodidae

holding_imgThe family Zapodidae is met with some controversy, as there are varied opinions about the status as a distinct family or as a subfamily of the Old World Family Dipodidae. They were described as being separated from the Old World by Coues in 1875. We treat it as a distinct family for this website. The group currently recognizes three genera and five species. This family is collectively known as jumping mice, and they are mostly restricted to the middle and northern parts of North America. Their habitat generally consists of moist meadows and the edge of woodlands, although some species prefer deep forests near streams.

Only one non-American species, Eozapus setchuanus, is known. It is native to China, and is the only representative of the genus Eozapus. The other two genera, Zapus and Napaeozapus, are native to North America. The main difference between the two American genera is the absence of a minute upper premolar in Napaeozapus. As a family, the members closely resemble each other, especially in size and color. They are slightly larger than the common house mouse, and have long limbs. Their coloration is yellowish brown on top, with a white underside and a broad line of yellowish orange separating the two sides. Napaeozapus also has a characteristic white tip on the tail.

Members of Zapodidae serve an important ecological role through seed dispersal. Napaeozapus insignis, or the western jumping mouse, is thought to benefit trees of economic importance through their dispersal of mycorrhizal fungi. They also are of some importance as a prey species for a variety of animals, including gray wolves and bobcats. Many species of Zapodidae are primarily nocturnal, although they are known to forage during daytime hours as well. Members of this group burrow and build underground nests, where they then spend winters in hibernation. They are active for only a short time each year. The normal mode of locomotion is a quadrupedal walk, although a quadrupedal hop is also used. This hop can be as long as 1.8 m, although the average is around 0.9 m, and can be as high as 0.6 m. Jumping mice are omnivorous generalists, with primary food sources including fruits, seeds, fungi and insects. All members of Zapodidae are listed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN RedList.

Work Cited
Allen, J.A. “The North-American Jumping Mice.” The American Naturalist 34.399 (1900): 199-202. Jstor. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. .
Harrington, E. 2004. “Napaeozapus insignis” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 02, 2015 at
Mockler, R. 2002. “Zapus princeps” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 02, 2015 at

Author: Lauren Naylor