Hordes of giant mice are devouring endangered seabird chicks on a remote South Atlantic island and may be pushing some of the birds to extinction, scientists report.
The carnage has harmed the breeding success of endangered Tristan albatrosses and threatened Atlantic petrels on Gough Island, a British territory a thousand miles (1,600 kilometers) off the coast of South Africa. Video cameras revealed one pack of ten mice feeding on a Tristan albatross chick's wounds as it nested on the ground. Footage also showed mice devouring Atlantic petrel and great shearwater chicks.
"Like a House Cat Attacking a Hippo"
Nearly three feet (one meter) tall, a Tristan albatross chick can weigh up to 22 pounds (10 kilograms), or about as much as a turkey. Gough Island mice weigh just 1.2 ounces (35 grams) on average. The birds did not fight off their attackers, even as some mice fed inside the body cavity of one albatross chick.
Researchers say the footage provides the first hard evidence that mice previously thought harmless to seabirds are willing to attack prey more than 300 times their weight.
for National Geographic News
April 13, 2007