Sunday, 11 November 2012

Common Dormouse; Species Profile

The Common Dormouse, perhaps more commonly known as the "Hazel" Dormouse, is Britain's only native dormouse, but it is very poorly named...

The common dormouse is not a type of mouse. It is a rodent, but often more closely resembles a squirrel. However it is not a squirrel either, and belongs in a family group all of it's own along with around 20 other species. This family group is called the "Gliridae", or in other words the dormice.

The common dormouse is not as common as it once was anymore. Habitat loss and fragmentation has led to a reduction in the numbers we have in the wild. I will explain more in our conservation post in a few days.

The common dormouse is not a "door". Obviously!... OK, sorry about that one.

But the common dormouse IS one of our most engaging and beautiful small mammals. They seem to prefer hazel coppice woodland, but will be found in other areas too such as deciduous woodland and overgrown hedgerows. It seems one of the most important factors is a variety of diet throughout the year.

Their diet consists of flowers, pollen, berries, fruits and nuts such as hazelnuts, beechmast and chestnuts. They will take small insects too, and perhaps the most important food source being brambles, honeysuckle, oak and hazel.

Dormice will usually just have the one litter a year of 3-7 young in the Summer. Sometimes a second, later litter may occur, but often these won't survive their first hibernation.

They have predators such as owls and weasels, but their biggest threat is starvation through the cold Winter months.

 Here are some amazing facts on our native dormouse:

 - The word "dormouse" possibly comes from the French verb "dormir", meaning "to sleep"

 - Well known for its appearance in the Alice in Wonderland books, often falling asleep at the Mad Hatter's tea party

 - A very nocturnal mammal, they have large eyes for their body size and incredibly adapted whiskers which they can use to feel their surroundings in pitch dark

 - They are very arboreal, and similar to squirrels, can rotate their hind feet 180 degrees to help hand from twigs

 - Even cooler than that, their feet are covered in small gripping pads to help stay attached to the trees. This makes their feet feel sticky when handled

 - Needle sharp claws help with climbing on even the smoothest of surfaces

 - Dormice don't have a "caecum" - the area of the digestive system that is used to digest leaves etc. Therefore they are specialist feeders, one of the contributing factors to their decline

 - Most small rodents have only 3 molars with rough lumps to help chew their food. Dormice have 4! with traverse ridges instead, allowing a smoother gnaw

 - Known for their "sleepy" nature, they are our longest hibernators often hibernating for up to 7 months of the year

 - During the summer they can often enter a state of "torpor", a kind of semi-hibernation, often up to 10 hours a day... of course they still get their usually 8 hours of sleep during the day on top off this too!

 - Therefore it is no surprise that the old English name for the dormouse was "The Sleeper"

To hear about our conservation efforts with common dormice, check back in a few days. To hear more about these fascinating little rodents and see one in person, then do come to the wildlife centre later next Spring, when they are beginning to come out of hibernation. You will then get to see them in our "Nocturnal House" during the day as they go about their foraging.

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