9 fascinating facts about dormice

Learn more about one of our rarest and sleepiest of rodents, the dormouse, with Florence Wright's fact file. 

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Hazel or common dormouse, Muscardinus avellanarius, single mammal on plant, UK

1. The hazel dormouse, Muscardinus avellanarius, (also known as the common dormouse) is a member of the rodent order. It is easily distinguished by it’s fluffy tail, golden-brown fur and striking brown eyes, and weighs as little as two £1 coins.

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2. Dormice are nocturnal rodents that sleep a lot! It’s this sleepy nature that has given them their name, as it comes from the French word “dormir” which means to sleep.

3. This sleepy nature of the dormouse was portrayed by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The dormouse at the Mad Hatters tea party is forever nodding off, talking and singing in its sleep, and this lazy, hopeless nature only enhanced their popularity.

4. As recently as 100 years ago dormouse populations were a lot more widespread and their tiny size and adorable appearance made them perfect countryside pets.

5. There is a species of dormouse that was once, and in some places still is, a bit of a delicacy. The edible dormouse, Glis glis, was eaten by upper class Romans – they baked and stuffed the dormice, or fried them and dipped them in honey and poppy seeds. In parts of Slovenia and Croatia they are still eaten.

6. Dormice aren’t eaten in the UK and the killing of them is against the law. This is because numbers of hazel dormice are dangerously low and have been declining over the last 100 years. The hazel dormouse population is now down to around 45,000 and has become extinct in seven counties in north and east England.

7. Grey Squirrels, hedgerow and woodland fragmentation, climate change and a lack of coppiced woodland have all contributed to the decline of dormice. Grey squirrels eat nuts at an earlier stage in autumn, and so leave very little for the dormice. Non-coppiced woodland creates an unsuitable habitat and climate change disrupts the hibernation cycle, meaning the rodents wake too often in the winter.

8. Hazelnuts provide a great source of fat for dormice; so hazel trees are an ideal habitat. They need to bulk up for the winter months so they eat a wide range of things, including pollen, fruits, nuts and insects. Dormice can almost double their body weight just prior to hibernation, fluctuating from between 15-20g to 30-40g.

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9. Dormice are fully protected by law and it’s a crime to disturb, injure, or kill them in their nests, or collect, trap or sell them without a licence.