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Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program Balancing Resource Use and Conservation

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Desert Pocket Mouse

      (Chaetodipus penicillatus sobrinus)

Desert Pocket MouseDesert Pocket MouseDesert Pocket Mouse

General Description

The desert pocket mouse (Chaetodipus penicillatus sobrinus) is a member of the Family Heteromyidae, which in addition to pocket mice, also includes kangaroo rats and mice. Members of this family have fur-lined cheek pouches that are used to carry seeds. The desert pocket mouse is a medium-sized pocket mouse with a long tufted tail. It has coarse fur and lacks spines on its rump. The upperparts and sides are tan colored and finely sprinkled with black, imparting a grayish tone. The underparts are white continuing along the length of the tail to the tuft. There is no lateral line and the sole of the hind foot is naked to the heel. On average, the total length of desert pocket mice is 8.1 inches (205 mm), the tail is 4.3 inches (109 mm), and the weight is 0.5 to 0.8 oz (15-23 g).

Legal Status

The desert pocket mouse is an evaluation species under the LCR MSCP habitat conservation plan.


Two subspecies of desert pocket mouse occur on the LCR, Chaetodipus penicillatus sobrinus and Chaetodipus penicillatus penicillatus. The subspecies that is covered as an evaluation species under the LCR MSCP is C p. sobrinus. Methods to distinguish the subspecies apart in the field have not yet been developed.


The breeding season occurs from April to August, with peak reproductive activity occurring in June. Desert pocket mice build sphere-shaped nests of dry grass, dug to a depth of roughly 7.1 inches (18 cm). Gestation period is 26 days or more and litter size averages 3-4 young.


The diet of the desert pocket mouse is comprised of a variety of seeds, including mesquite. It has externally opening fur-lined cheek pouches that it uses when gathering food.


In addition to a broad variety of predators, human activities also affect desert pocket mouse populations. Many of the extant populations of the desert pocket mouse are now isolated from one another, due to human fragmentation of habitat.

More Information

Additional information on this species, as well as source documentation, can be found in the species accounts located at this link (PDF). Technical Reports on this species can be found here.

Updated February 19, 2021

The desert pocket mouse occurs in creosote bush and dry riparian communities throughout the deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. The northern range encompasses areas from southeastern California, southern Nevada, and extreme southwest Utah. To the south, the species occurs to southeastern Baja California, Mexico, and the northern two-thirds of the state of Sonora, Mexico.

The desert pocket mouse subspecies C. p. sobrinus is currently believed to be restricted to an area that encompasses the Colorado River, Virgin River, and Muddy Rivers in southeast Nevada and northwestern Arizona, as well as small populations in extreme southwestern Utah near Beaver Dam Wash. The other subspecies that occurs along the LCR (C. p. penicillatus) has a wider range and occurs from Topock on the LCR in the north, to Yuma, Arizona, in the south, and occurs eastward into Central Arizona, from south of the Mogollon Rim to San Carlos Reservoir. Both subspecies are present on both sides of the LCR; the river has not served as a barrier to the distribution of this species. Pocket mice, including both LCR subspecies, occur in sandy areas, where vegetation is sparse. In the Las Vegas Valley, C. p. sobrinus was recorded for the first time in 1891, and not recorded again until 1997.

Desert pocket mice occur in desert areas with coarse soils and clumped brush habitat. They tend to avoid more open desert areas, likely due to a lack of cover. The general distribution of desert pocket mice corresponds to that of creosote and saltbush, and is strongly associated with the creosote-salt brush community. They are the only species in the family Heteromyidae commonly found in riparian woodland or tamarisk habitats. While it prefers areas with shrubby canopy cover, they forage into open areas up to 13ft (4m) from cover.

LCR MSCP Conservation Measures

The Habitat Conservation Plan provides conservation measures specific to each species. Listed below are the species specific conservation measures for the desert pocket mouse. Click on the arrows to expand the table.

DPMO1—Conduct surveys to locate desert pocket mouse habitat

Conduct surveys to locate desert pocket mouse habitat that could be affected by LCR MSCP habitat creation–related activities to determine whether the habitat is occupied. If the habitat is occupied, design habitat creation–related activities to avoid the habitat. If the habitat cannot be avoided, to the extent practicable, restore the disturbed habitat area onsite following completion of the activities and protect and incorporate the habitat into the conservation area. If the habitat cannot be restored onsite, create amount of habitat at least equal to the extent of disturbed habitat elsewhere in the conservation area. Restoring disturbed habitat will ensure that covered activities do not adversely affect the existing or potential future enhanced distribution, abundance, or population viability of the desert pocket mouse in the LCR MSCP planning area.

AMM5—Avoid impacts of operation, maintenance, and replacement of hydroelectric generation and transmission facilities on covered species in the LCR MSCP planning area

To the extent practicable, before implementing activities associated with OM&R of hydroelectric generation and transmission facilities, measures will be identified and implemented that are necessary to avoid take of covered species where such activities could otherwise result in take. These measures could include conducting surveys to determine if covered species are present and, if so, deferring the implementation of activities to avoid disturbance during the breeding season; redesigning the activities to avoid the need to disturb covered species habitat use areas; staging of equipment outside of covered species habitats; delineating the limits of vegetation control activities to ensure that only the vegetation that needs to be removed to maintain infrastructure is removed; stockpiling and disposing of removed vegetation in a manner that minimizes the risk of fire; and implementing BMPs to control erosion when implementing ground disturbing activities.

Research and Monitoring Activities

LCR MSCP conduct a variety of research and monitoring activities along the LCR encompassing both MSCP and non-MSCP species. For a complete list of all activities, please see the Research and Monitoring Activities web page.

This gallery includes photos of this species. If you require larger photos, please contact our webmaster Michelle Reilly at mreilly@usbr.gov.

Pocket mouse captured in 2006 at the Beal Restoration Site in  Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, near Needles, CA - Photo by Reclamation Desert pocket mouse caught in 2006 at a revegetation site at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, near Yuma, CA - Photo by Reclamation Desert pocket mouse captured in 2006 at the Beal restoration site in  Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, near Needles, CA - Photo by Reclamation