The name Dormouse is used for any rodent that belongs to the family Gliridae. It is also recognized as Myoxidae family or Muscardinidae family. This species is majorly famous for its remarkably longer period of hibernation, and their name dormice also refer to the word to sleep. Among thirty existing species, dormouse has been arranged in eight or nine genera. The reason is its only one species being native to the British Isles. That one species is common dormouse or hazel dormouse, scientifically known as Muscardinus avellanarius. Typically, the name dormouse and hazel dormouse are used conversely in everyday usage. The other dormouse species like an edible dormouse, Glis glis were introduced inadvertently in the British Isles.
Table of Contents
1. Physical Description
- Appearance and size
The physical appearance of dormouse varies widely from other species of mice. Their most prominent feature is their long thickly furry tails. Typically they look similar to squirrels and chipmunks. Like them, they possess short claws that are curved too, round head, small ears, big black eyes, and elongated bushy tails. With the However, few species might have lean bare tails too like mouse-tailed dormice species. Both genders of dormouse look similar. Their feet contain four and five toes at the front and back feet respectively. Their feet are modified in such a way that they can support arboreal existence easily. That means they spend a significant part of their time on trees. Their feet possess potent and curled claws on each toe, cushion padded soles to help in gripping, and squirrels like rear feet to help in natural descending from trees.
The body size of dormice varies from species to species. Generally, they range from 6.30 to 7.48 inches in length, and a body mass ranges from 4.23 to 5.29 ounces by weight. The largest species of dormice is Glis glis.
Being an omnivorous, dormouse can consume on a wide variety of food like plants and animals both. However, usually, they fulfill their needs through trees. They adapt their food selection according to the weather and their requirements. They prefer to consume flowers, leaves, and bud during spring and consume insects, birds’ eggs, and arthropods during hot summers. During fall and end of summer, they prefer to consume nuts, seeds, fruits and berries. Their food selection also differs according to their different species. Desert dormouse is the only dormice species that is entirely carnivorous. Otherwise, all species changes their preferences according to their needs.
- Habitat and distribution
The major habitat of dormice is shrubs, forests and other woodlands. The different species depict a bit different behaviors regarding habitat selection, but mostly choose forests or woodland as their habitat. Hazel dormice prefer to stay at heightened dense forests. They hesitate to come at a ground and usually, they can spend many days at high trees without coming downwards. The forest dormice, as their name shows, are the most arboreal dormouse among all other species. They choose incredibly dense forests as their habitat. While their stay on trees, they eat fruits hanging considerably low at trees. Edible and garden dormouse prefers mixed forests. Mouse-tailed Dormouse is only dormice species that can be seen in a large variety of habitat except on trees. They can be seen residing on grounds.
Dormice animals are usually dispersed in a wide variety of the region. They can be commonly seen on the continent of Africa, Europe, and Asia. However, they mostly exist in Europe.
The breeding season of dormice usually starts right after the ending of their hibernation period. The intense period of sleeplessness during ending hibernations days occur because of changing hormones that incline them towards mating. Normally, the breeding season of dormice is very short. In those areas where the temperature remains moderate, their breeding season start from may and ends in October. They regularly produce one clutch per season, and each clutch contains four baby dormice on average. Breeding habits may vary from species to species. Like, hazel dormice also attempt for the second clutch per season. Fat dormice breeding depend on its food accumulation. Dormice also produce different calls to attract their mate during courtship period. After meeting, female dormice build their nests that are spherical in shape. After a gestation period of one month, female dormice lay four to five baby dormice that are blind and pink in color. After staying a week inside a nest dependently, young dormice start developing hairs, and by the end of the second week, they start hearing and seeing. They become truly independent after 1 to 1.5 months. Dormouse starts involving in production process after their first hibernation period.
2. Dormouse Hibernation
The most conspicuous feature of dormouse is their unexpectedly large period of hibernation. In moderate regions, they usually stay hibernated as long as six months of the year and continue their hibernation if the temperature does not gets warm. During their hibernation, they get up to consume food that they stored near them during their non-hibernating period. During their whole summer, they consume enough food to store fat on their bodies. This fat helps them during their hibernation. During their hibernation period, they curl their bodies into a wooden ball and hide inside log heaps or trees curves. The process of fat accumulation in dormice is very significant and necessary as the purely carnivorous dormouse species start consuming seeds and nuts before going to their hibernation. The name dormouse also refers to their hibernation period. Dormouse evolved from the term dormeus that means ‘sleepy one,’ and as the time passed, this term was changed as dormouse by locals.
3. Relationship with Humans
In Europe, many people used to keep dormice as their pets. They can be made a super tamed pet by frequent interaction with their owner. In the past, people also used to farm Glis glis dormice and consume them as their food. These dormice were used both as an appetizer and as a dessert after dropping in honey and poppy seed. Ancient Roman commonly used them as a part of their food, and they are also in use in Slovenia in few areas. Their fat is supposed to be a source of stimulating sleep, as they normally accumulate fat before going into hibernation period.
4. Dormouse Threats
Dormice rodents that were used to be a common animal in the past is no more common these days. There are many reasons for their lacking population. This tiny creature is facing some threats that are causing their declining.
- The most significant threat to dormice species is the loss of their habitat. Clearance of dense forest and woodlands are resulting in the development of small patches of forest. Dormice being a very shy animal, feel reluctant to cross open land and thus stay confined in a limited number of trees.
- The other major threat of dormice is their natural predators. Their predators include fox, dogs, owls, wild boar, cats, weasel and few others. Although, they are not easy to get caught by their predators. However, domestic cats have still proved to be their biggest threat.
- Climate changes are also a big cause of dormice declining. Dormice require an appropriate climate to continue their routine life activities. As due to human activities, the overall climate is changing. It results in disturbed hibernation and breeding cycles that ended up in decreased number of dormice population.
- Deficiency of dormice food resources is another major threat to dormice population. Being a consumer of similar food, dormice have very tough competition with other species like squirrels. Grey squirrels usually consume all nuts at the start of the autumn and leave a very few amount for dormice.
5. Other Fun Facts you Might Not Know
Besides having routine features and habits, dormice also possess some unusual, fascinating features and habits too. Here, we will discuss few fun facts about dormice.
- The dormice unintentionally play an important role in flowers’ pollination. It drinks flowers’ nectar, and during this time, few types of pollen also get attached to its whisker. Then these pollens are transferred to another flower when they went to drink their nectar.
- Dormice are highly nocturnal in nature, and their body features are well adapted for this lifestyle too. They possess huge eyes, sharp sense of hearing and smell and responsive vibrissae that helps them to act sharply in the dark.
- During the day time, dormouse spends a whole of their time inside nests, trees, and discarded holes.
- Edible dormouse or fat dormouse is a dormice species that unlike all other small rodents does not hibernate every year and stays alive for the longest period.
- Similar to their other fellow rodents’ species, they also contain pointed long front teeth that help them in chewing sharp tree parts.
- Almost 100 years ago, dormice species was one of the most prevalent rodent species. Their charming looks along with their small size made them a well-suited pet, especially for countryside areas.
- Although dormice possess elongated tails and spherical ears, they do do not belong to the same family as a regular mouse does. They belong to the suborder of squirrels and beavers in a rodent family.
- Like humans, dormice also possess family. They live with their four babies that play, wrestle and cuddle with their sibling just like humans.