There are eight subspecies of beach mice, five of which live along the Gulf Coast. Perdido Key beach mice have small bodies, hairy tails, large ears and big eyes. Their bodies are grayish fawn to wood brown with a very pale-yellow hue.
Beach mice emerge from their burrows at night to forage on the seeds and fruits of beach plants, as well as on insects. Sea oats make up a large part of their diet, but they also feed on other seasonally available dune plant seeds, such as bluestem, ground cherry, evening primrose, beach pea and dune spurge.
Throughout the night, the mice make several trips to and from their burrows gathering seeds to store. At the Smithsonian's National Zoo, beach mice eat rodent chow and seeds. They also receive fruit and mealworms as enrichment.
Perdido Key beach mice are protected as an endangered species by the Endangered Species Act and as a federally designated endangered species by Florida's Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.
All subspecies of beach mice, with the exception of the Santa Rosa beach mouse, are state and federally protected.
Beach mice have specific habitat needs, which are threatened by human development that destroys dune habitat and limits food resources. Their populations are also at risk from introduced predators, such as domestic cats and red foxes.
The Smithsonian's National Zoo is the first zoo outside of Florida to house this species. Much like the black-footed ferret program, zoos assist U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by housing and breeding these animals for reintroduction. As the program grows, retired breeders are also used for education and as ambassador animals.
Conserving beach mouse habitat helps sea turtles, shorebirds and other coastal species.