In the penultimate stanza of the beloved nursery rhyme 'The Farmer in the Dell', the mouse takes the cheese (and, of course, the cheese then proceeds to stand alone). The entire song is riddled with nonsensical causality (why would the nurse take a cow?), but if there’s one myth that can easily be dispelled through science, it’s the long-held belief that mice and cheese have any sort of enduring relationship. It turns out that mice aren’t easily baited by fermented dairy. So scratch this image from your mental faculties right now.
The person who debunked this age-old myth is Dr David Holmes of Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, who conducted a study in 2006 about what types of food attract and repel certain animals. And what he found was that mice not only dislike cheese, they actively avoid it – which makes anatomical sense, since mice generally have very sensitive noses that can easily be overpowered by strong odours.
In an interview with Scientific American, Dr Holmes says that mice tend to prefer grains and fruits, along with some man-made foods that are high in sugar. In fact, Dr Holmes says that feeding mice cheese can be rather damaging. 'It's not really what they want, and they usually turn their noses up at pungent cheeses such as Stilton,' Holmes says. 'These things are made for the gourmet taste of human beings and they are not made for mice, and in all of the mouse's evolution, it did not come across cheese.'
According to the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, proper mouse diets are comprised of 16 percent protein, 18 percent fibre and not more than four percent fat (so that leaves very little wiggle room for dairy).
So with mice and cheese, all we’ve got to go on is flimsy theories, but what we know to be true is that artists and writers took to the image and reproduced it over and over again until it permeated numerous cultures. And it did so successfully because, frankly, it’s so gosh darn adorable. This couple is easy to love and that’s why it lives on.
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