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The Old World rats and mice, part of the subfamily Murinae in the family Muridae, comprise at least 519 species. This subfamily is larger than all mammal families except the Cricetidae, and is larger than all mammal order except the bats and the remainder of the rodents.


The Murinae are native to Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. They are the only terrestrial placental mammals native to Australia. They have also been introduced to all continents except Antarcticamarker, and are serious pest animals. This is particularly true in island communities where they have contributed to the endangerment and extinction of many native animals.

Two prominent murine human commensal have become vital laboratory animals. The brown rat and house mouse are both used as medical subjects.

The murines have a distinctive molar pattern that involves three rows of cusps instead of two, the primitive pattern seen most frequently in muroid rodents.


The first known appearance of the Murinae in the fossil record is about 14 million years ago with the fossil genus Antemus. Antemus is thought to derive directly from Potwarmus, which has a more primitive tooth pattern. Likewise, two genera, Progonomys and Karnimata are thought to derive directly from Antemus. Progonomys is thought to be the ancestor of Mus and relatives, while Karnimata is thought to lead to Rattus and relatives. All of these fossils are found in the well-preserved and easily dated Siwalik fossil beds of Pakistanmarker. The transition from Potwarmus to Antemus to Progonomys and Karnimata is considered an excellent example of anagenic evolution.


Most of the Murinae have been poorly studied. Some genera have been grouped, such as the hydromyine water rats, conilurine or pseudomyine Australian mice, or the phloeomyine Southeast Asian forms. No tribal level taxonomy has been attempted for the complete subfamily. It appears as if genera from southeast Asian islands and Australia may be early offshoots compared to mainland forms. The vlei rats in the genera Otomys and Parotomys are often placed in a separate subfamily, Otomyinae, but have been shown to be closely related to African murines in spite of their uniqueness.

Three genera, Uranomys, Lophuromys, and Acomys were once considered to be murines, but were found to be more closely related to gerbils through molecular phylogenetics. They have been assigned a new subfamily status, Deomyinae.

List of Genera

As of 2005, the Murinae contain 129 genera in 584 species. Musser and Carleton (2005) divided the Murinae into 29 genus divisions. They treated the Otomyinae as a separate subfamily, but all molecular analyses conducted to date have supported their inclusion in the Murinae as relatives of African genera (Michaux et al., 2001; Jansa and Weksler, 2004; Steppan et al., 2004; 2005; Jansa et al., 2006).

Subfamily Murinae - Old World rats and mice


  • Chevret, P., C. Denys, J.-J. Jaeger, J. Michaux, and F.M. Catzeflis. 1993. Molecular evidence that the spiny mouse (Acomys) is more closely related to gerbils (Gerbillinae) than to the true mice (Murinae). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 90:3433-3436.
  • Jacobs, L.L. 1978. Fossil rodents (Rhizomyidae and Muridae) from Neogene Siwalik deposits, Pakistanmarker. Bulletin of the Museum of Northern Arizona, 52: 1-103.
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  • Jansa, S.A. and M. Weksler. Phylogeny of muroid rodents: relationships within and among major lineages as determined by IRBP gene sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 31:256-276.
  • McKenna, M.C. and S. K. Bell. 1997. Classification of Mammals above the Species Level. Columbia University Press, New York.
  • Michaux, J., A. Reyes, and F. Catzeflis. 2001. Evolutionary history of the most speciose mammals: molecular phylogeny of muroid rodents. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 17:280-293.
  • Musser, G.G. and M. D. Carleton. 1993. Family Muridae. Pp. 501-755 in Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. D.E. Wilson and D.M. Reeder eds. Smithsonianmarker Institution Press, Washington D.C.
  • Musser, G. G. and L. R. Heaney. 2006. Philippine rodents: Definitions of Tarsomys and Limnomys plus a preliminary assessment of phylogenetic patterns among native Philippine murines (Murinae, Muridae). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 211:1–138.
  • Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Vol. 2. Johns Hopkins University Press, London.
  • Steppan, S.J., R.A. Adkins, and J. Anderson. 2004. Phylogeny and divergence date estimates of rapid radiations in muroid rodents based on multiple nuclear genes. Systematic Biology, 53:533-553.
  • Steppan, S. J., R. M. Adkins, P. Q. Spinks, and C. Hale. 2005. Multigene phylogeny of the Old World mice, Murinae, reveals distinct geographic lineages and the declining utility of mitochondrial genes compared to nuclear genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 37:370-388.

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