There was something bizarre going on in Briton Rodney Holbrook’s backyard shed every night. The 75-year-old living in the Welsh county of Powys had been noticing that his workspace would look a tad bit cleaner every morning.
For several months a mysterious helper seemed to be tidying up after the septuagenarian, who is reportedly a retired postman and a keen photography enthusiast.
“It happens every night without fail,” Holbrook said, according to an article on The Washington Post news website, adding that it all began in October when he started noticing that small items seemed out of place in his shed each morning.
"I've got a little box where I've got some nuts that I can feed to the birds, and I've got lots of other food in my bins and things," he said according to a report on the Sky News website.
"One morning I went in early October and there were no nuts in there and I thought I put nuts in yesterday."
Holbrook decided to set up a nocturnal camera to see what was happening in the shed at night.
The now-viral black-and-white visuals left Holbrook surprised. A tiny mouse was picking up things on the desk – from cable ties to clothes pegs, nuts, and bolts – in its tiny mouth and placing them in a tray on the workbench.
The tiny mousekeeper, now dubbed the ‘Welsh Tidy Mouse’ by Holbrook and the internet, might not be a resident of the shed. But, according to Holbrook, he's there tidying "every night".
"I haven't found out how it's getting in so I don't think it's living in there. It could be," he added. The rodent janitor isn’t always alone, it is occasionally joined by two or three mouse friends.
"He will eat the odd one or two nuts. I think what it is doing is piling things on top of it to hide them. This is what I think is happening, to hide the nuts from other mice or anything that might want to get to his stash," he added according to the Sky News article.
According to a report by the New York Times, that’s one possible explanation. The report quotes Megan Jackson, a researcher at the University of Bristol who studies motivation using mice in labs. Or, the mouse is building some kind of nest.
“We know that mice have a really strong drive to forage,” she said. Searching for interesting things in the environment to bring back and hoard, she said, is “intrinsically mouse-y behaviour”, the New York Times report added.
In her research, Jackson said she had created a similar situation in which lab mice were encouraged to forage nesting material and carry it back to a box. “Mice are willing to put in a lot of effort to work at something they find rewarding,” she said.
While the exact motivation behind the mouse’s tidiness is unclear, it did make the rodent an internet sensation.