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The dormouse

David Chapman

The dormouse must be one of the most universally loved of all creatures in Britain today.

Dormouse photographed by David Chapman

I doubt there is a single reason why it has become so popular but I suspect the many references to it in our children’s literature; the pleasantly plump shape of a sleeping dormouse; the big dark eyes and the relative scarcity of this attractive creature have all helped.

The name of the dormouse has the same origin as the French word dormir which means 'to sleep' and colloquially the dormouse is known in Britain as 'the sleeper'. These are both references to the fact that dormice spend most of their lives asleep and when they sleep they really know how to sleep. From late October through to May the dormouse hibernates. May seems very late to emerge from hibernation but it isn’t until then that any food becomes available. At this time of year dormice eat leaf buds while in autumn they fatten up on hazel nuts before hibernation begins again.

When hibernating the dormouse lowers its metabolic rate and heart beat to the minimum level which can sustain its life. Through doing this it saves energy but it needs to find a safe place underground where the temperature remains fairly stable.

During summer they make nests in thickets where they can raise their young but even during summer they do a lot of sleeping. Most feeding is done at dusk and dawn so in the day time and during the dead of night they go back to sleep again. At these times they enter a state of torpor, which is a half way state to hibernation. They become absolutely unaware of anything around them and if disturbed it might take them a couple of minutes to come around.

Dormice are found mostly in southern Britain though they are also found locally in northern England with a couple of records in Scotland. They are often found in association with hazel trees and can be seen in country gardens where suitable habitat exists. I must admit to being a little envious of some friends of mine who live on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, they put out peanuts on a low-lying bird table and watch dormice running through the shrubs to come and collect them.


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