Feature Creature - Dormouse

 By Emma Websdale

Agile climbers and mainly nocturnal, dormice can spend their enter life up in the branches of woodland, hedgerows and scrub without ever touching the group - making them a very secret species!

If you're ever lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this beautiful rodent's golden-brown fur, you'll soon fall under its spell - it's impossible to resist its adorable large black eyes, creamy-white belly and fluffy tail.

Gnawing away

Dormice have strong, sharp front teeth (incisors) for gnawing food such as buds, flowers, berries, insects and hazelnuts. A great way to detect if dormice live nearby is by checking hazelnuts for their tooth marks - marks that run parallel to the edge of the hole, rather than outwards from its centre, making the rim look smooth.

Surviving the changing months

In the winter, the dormouse has to make certain preparations:
a) glut on caterpillars, aphids and hazelnuts to reach 15-18g
b) build a new dense, warm nest out of stripped honeysuckle bark and leaves.

Both of these are crucial for any dormouse to survive the winter. When food becomes scarce and temperatures get very cold, dormice often curl up into a ball and go into torpor. This is very similar to hibernation!

During the summer, a female dormouse will give birth and raise her young in the nest. On average, she raises four babies, which remain with her until reaching around one month old.

A disappearing mammal

In total, 30 different species of dormice live in Europe, with the hazel dormouse being the only one active in the UK. Sadly, due to loss of habitat and suitable nesting places, the hazel dormouse has significantly declined in numbers, making it vulnerable to extinction in the UK.

A priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, many Wildlife Trusts are working to help the dormice make a comeback by providing nest boxes, monitoring populations and reintroducing the species back into areas where it used to flourish. Many local Wildlife Trusts are also working hard to manage woodlands to ensure that this species can survive and move between habitats.

Fantastic Facts:

  • Dormice weigh about the same as two £1 coins! 
  • A dormouse can remain in torpor for up to half a year! 

How you can help

See more Feature Creatures!