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A mouse killed in a mousetrap.

A mousetrap is a specialized type of animal trap designed primarily to catch mice; however, it may also trap other small animals. Mousetraps are usually set in an indoor location where there is a suspected infestation of rodents. There are various types of mousetrap, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Larger traps are designed to catch other species of animals; such as rats, squirrels, other small rodents, or other animals.

Mouse trap designs[edit]

Spring-loaded bar mousetrap[edit]

An unprimed mousetrap
A baited and primed spring-loaded bar mousetrap
Mousetrap, mouse, bait (chocolate)
Mousetrap made of plastic with house mouse

The first spring-loaded mouse trap was invented by William C. Hooker of Abingdon, Illinois, who received US patent 528671 for his design in 1894.[1][2] James Henry Atkinson, a British inventor who in 1897 invented a prototype called the "Little Nipper", probably had seen the Hooker trap in the shops or in advertisements and used it as the basis of his model.[3]

It is a simple device with a heavily spring-loaded bar and a trip to release it. Cheese may be placed on the trip as bait, but other food such as oats, chocolate, bread, meat, butter and peanut butter are commonly used. The spring-loaded bar swings down rapidly and with great force when anything, usually a mouse, touches the trip. The design is such that the mouse's neck or spinal cord will be broken, or its ribs or skull crushed, by the force of the bar. The trap can be held over a bin and the dead mouse released into it by pulling the bar. Rats are much larger than mice; a much larger version of the same type of trap is used to kill them. Some spring mouse traps have a plastic extended trigger made to look like a piece of cheese. The larger trigger has two advantages over the smaller traditional type: increased leverage, which requires less force from the rodent to trip it; and the larger surface area of the trigger increases the probability of even the most cunning of rodents to set off the trap.

In 1899, John Mast of Lititz, Pennsylvania, filed a U.S. patent for a modification of Hooker's design that can be "readily set or adjusted with absolute safety to the person attending thereto, avoiding the liability of having his fingers caught or injured by the striker when it is prematurely or accidentally freed or released."[4] He obtained the patent at 17 November 1903.

Some modern plastic designs can be set by the pressure of a single finger on a tab.[citation needed]

Mouth mousetrap[edit]

A mouth-type mousetrap.

This lightweight mousetrap consists of a set of plastic jaws operated by a coiled spring and triggering mechanism inside the jaws, where the bait is held. The trigger snaps the jaws shut, killing the rodent. These traps do not have such a powerful snap as other types. They are safer for the user than other lethal traps, since they can be armed by foot.

Electric mousetrap[edit]

This more recent type of mousetrap delivers a lethal dose of electricity when the rodent completes the circuit by contacting two electrodes located either at the entrance or between the entrance and the bait. The electrodes are housed in an insulated or plastic box to prevent accidental injury to humans and pets. They can be designed for single-catch domestic use or large multiple-catch commercial use. See U.S. Patent 4,250,655 and U.S. Patent 4,780,985

Live-catching mousetraps[edit]

A live-catch mousetrap. Uninjured mice can be released.

Other traps catch mice alive so that they can be released into the wild. One of the simplest designs consists of nothing more than a drinking glass placed upside down above a piece of bait, its rim elevated by a coin stood on edge. If the mouse attempts to take the bait, the coin is displaced and the glass traps the mouse.[5] Another is to make a half-oval shaped tunnel with a toilet paper roll, put bait on one end of the roll, place the roll on a counter or table with the baited end sticking out over the edge, and put a deep bin under the edge. When the mouse enters the toilet paper roll to take the bait, the roll (and the mouse) will tip over the edge and fall into the bin below; the bin needs to be deep enough to ensure that the mouse cannot jump out, however.[6]

It is important to release the mouse promptly – as mice can die from stress or dehydration – and at some distance, as mice have a strong homing instinct. Survival after release is not guaranteed, since house mice will tend to seek out human buildings, where they might encounter lethal mousetraps or may be eaten by predators. In the wild, house mice are very poor competitors, and cannot survive away from human settlements in areas where other small mammals, such as wood mice, are present.[7]

Glue traps[edit]

A mouse stuck in a glue trap.

Glue traps are made using natural or synthetic adhesive applied to cardboard, plastic trays or similar material. Bait can be placed in the center or a scent may be added to the adhesive by the manufacturer. Glue traps are used primarily for rodent control indoors. Glue traps are not effective outdoors due to environmental conditions (moisture, dust), which quickly render the adhesive ineffective. Glue strip or glue tray devices trap the mouse in the sticky glue.

Glue traps sometimes do not kill the animal, so that one might want to kill the animal, especially a rat,[8] before disposal. However, the makers of these devices usually state that trapped animals should be thrown away with the trap. This is an advantage if the local population of animals have rat mites since the mite will remain on the animal’s body while it is still alive and the glue would also trap mites leaving the animal after the animal's death.

Pets who inadvertently come into contact with the trap can be released from the glue by applying vegetable oil and gently working the animal free. Nevertheless, these types of traps are effective and non-toxic to humans.


Death is much slower than with the traditional type trap,[9] which has prompted animal activists and welfare organisations such as PETA and the RSPCA to oppose the use of glue traps. Trapped mice eventually die from exposure, dehydration, starvation, suffocation, or predation, or are killed by people when the trap is checked. In some jurisdictions the use of glue traps is regulated: Victoria, Australia restricts the use of glue traps to commercial pest control operators, and the traps must be used in accordance with conditions set by the Minister for Agriculture.[10] Other jurisdictions have banned their use entirely;[11] in Ireland it is illegal to import, possess, sell or offer for sale unauthorized traps, including glue traps. This law, the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, was passed in 2000.[12] Uncle Bob's Self Storage the fifth largest self storage company in the United States, has banned the use of these devices at all its facilities, other companies that have taken similar measures are ING Barings and Charles Schwab Corporation.[13]

Bucket trap[edit]

Bucket traps may be lethal or non-lethal.[14] Both types have a ramp which leads to the rim of a deep-walled container, such as a bucket.

The bucket may contain a liquid to drown the trapped mouse. The mouse is baited to the top of the container where it falls into the bucket and drowns. Sometimes soap or caustic or poison chemicals are used in the bucket as killing agents.

In the non-lethal version, the bucket is empty, allowing the mouse to live, but keeping it trapped. The unharmed mouse can be released outdoors.

The variations are many with some being single catch and some multi-catch.[15]


There are several types of one-time use, disposable mousetraps,[16][17] generally made of inexpensive materials which are designed to be disposed of after catching a mouse. These mousetraps have similar trapping mechanisms as other traps, however, they generally conceal the dead mouse so it can be disposed of without being seen.

Similar devices[edit]

Similar ranges of traps are sized to trap other animal species; for example, rat traps are larger than mousetraps, and squirrel traps are larger still. A squirrel trap is a metal box-shaped device that is designed to catch squirrels and other similarly sized animals. The device works by drawing the animals in with bait that is placed inside. Upon touch, it forces both sides closed, thereby trapping, but not killing, the animal, which can then be released or killed at the trapper's discretion.

Mousetraps in literature[edit]

Poster for Thirteenth Naval District, United States Navy, showing a rat representing Japan, approaching a mousetrap labeled “Army, Navy, Civilian”, on a background map of the Alaska Territory
Mousetrap 19th century ad

Reference to a mousetrap is made as early as 1602 in Shakespeare's Hamlet (Hamlet; act 3 sc.2), where it is the name given to the 'play-within-a-play' by Hamlet himself: "'tis a knavish piece of work", he calls it. There is a reference in the 1800s by Alexandre Dumas, père in his novel The Three Musketeers. Chapter ten is titled "A Mousetrap of the Seventeenth Century". In this case, rather than referring to a literal mouse trap, the author describes a police or guard tactic that involves lying in wait in the residence of someone whom they have arrested without public knowledge and then grabbing, interviewing, and probably arresting anyone who comes to the residence. In the voice of a narrator, the author confesses to having no idea how the term became attached to this tactic.

There is an earlier reference, found in Ancient Greek The Battle of Frogs and Mice. Although not by name in this translation, the reference is clear. "...Ruthless men dragged another to his doom when by unheard-of arts they had contrived a wooden snare, a destroyer of Mice, which they call a trap" (11. 110-121).[18]

A mousetrap (Spanish: ratonera) figures prominently in the second chapter of the 1554 Spanish novel Lazarillo de Tormes, in which the hero Lazarillo steals cheese from a mousetrap to alleviate his hunger.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with the oft-quoted remark in favor of innovation: "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door." In the June 1912 issue of The Philistine, Elbert Hubbard admits that his "kabojolism"[19] (a neologism coined by Hubbard to describe what a writer, "would have said if he had happened to think of [it]") was "a mousetrap that caught a lot of literary mice intent on orphic cheese."[20]

Mousetraps are a staple of slapstick comedy and animated cartoons. The Tom and Jerry cartoon usually bases their plot on Tom attempting to trap Jerry with different (and sometimes ridiculous) methods of trapping the mouse, often being outsmarted by the latter and injuring himself in the process with the traps.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Patent of William C. Hooker's animal-trap in Google Patents.
  2. ^ Selected Highlights of the NYSL US Patent Collection
  3. ^ Van Dulken, Stephen (2001). Inventing the 19th Century. New York University Press. p. 128. ISBN 0-8147-8810-6. 
  4. ^ "Web reference". Retrieved 30 August 2007. 
  5. ^ Gordon, Whitson (14 June 2011). "Make a No-Kill Mousetrap with a Jar and a Nickel". Lifehacker. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  6. ^ "How to catch a mouse without a mousetrap". 20 September 2005. 
  7. ^ Tattersall F. H., Smith, R. H. & Nowell, F (1997). "Experimental colonization of contrasting habitats by house mice". Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde 62: 350–358. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Article in About Home & Garden about glue traps
  10. ^ "New Regulations on the use of Glue Traps and other Rodent Traps, Government of Victoria, Australia, 2008" (PDF). Archived from the original on 28 June 2009. 
  11. ^ Animal Welfare Amendment Act 2008 (Tasmania (Australia))
  12. ^ Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government – Press Release "Roche acts against illegal glue traps"
  13. ^ Robinson, David (2013-06-12). "PETA praises Sovran for glue trap ban". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  14. ^ Instructions on how to build a bucket mouse trap
  15. ^ D. Gilmore, "A simple mouse trap." English mechanic and world of science, Volume XXXI. Page 185, item 17214. London:1880. Retrieved 20 August 2009
  16. ^ "Disposable mouse trap". 6 August 1990. Retrieved 26 July 2010. 
  17. ^ "A nice and easy way to catch mice". Retrieved 26 July 2010. 
  18. ^ Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica
  19. ^ Elbert Hubbard (1998) [1922]. Elbert Hubbard II, ed. Preachments: Elbert Hubbard's Selected Writings, Volume 4. Montana: Kessinger. ISBN 978-0-7661-0385-6. 
  20. ^ White, Bruce A. (1989). The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest (1895-1915). Lantham, Maryland: University Press of America. pp. 101–102. ISBN 0-8191-7569-2. 

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