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Dormice

Posted: Tuesday 28 February 2012
by Richard Jones

I’ve written this blog mainly as a vehicle to show a ludicrously cute clip of a dormouse, snoring.


Dormouse facing forward

First, an admission. I’ve written this blog mainly as a vehicle to show a ludicrously cute clip of a dormouse, snoring. It was found during a survey by Surrey Wildlife Trust and temporarily removed from its specially built hibernaculum nest box to weigh it and quickly assess its general health. Ignore the snoring clinic ads that pop up with it, but read the YouTube uploader’s blurb/caption about licensed dormouse handlers.
 
Not all sources are in agreement, but some dictionaries suggest the animal gets its name from dor, an archaic provincial English word meaning to sleep, and similar to Latin dormio and French dormir, from which we get ‘dormant’ and ‘dormitory’. Dormice are renowned for their long hibernation periods from October to April; the sleeping attribute was picked up by Lewis Carrol for the slumbering animal portrayed in the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and this video just reinforces it.
 
Having been outside in a short-sleeved shirt at the weekend, it is difficult to believe anything can still be hibernating, in southern England at least. I’ve already seen a male of the feather-footed bee, Anthophora plumipes, zooming about; this is a nippy buff-brown bumblebee lookalike. I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen one in February before. I thought I caught sight of a queen ‘tree’ bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum. It was only a glimpse, but the orange thorax and bright white tail are the highly distinctive colourway of this species.
 
Hoverflies, ladybirds and green shieldbugs have all been active out there too and every morning we are atwitter with birdsong. Spring is definitely on the way.
 
I’ve never had a dormouse in my East Dulwich garden, although I know from the gardenersworld.com forum that some people with more rural lives do occasionally find them, or at least the distinctive round holes chewed in hazel nuts, showing that they have been active under the filbert bushes.
 
The only time I ever saw one was in a garden, but not here; it was whilst we were on holiday on the Greek island of Lesbos many years ago. Having abandoned our booked package holiday accommodation, because it was too noisy and grim, we found a room to rent in the old picturesque town of Molyvos. It was the old post office, converted to a private house, and it had a garden where most of the other houses perched on the mountainside had none.

As we sat in the courtyard brewing up coffee on the outdoor stove, or sipping ouzo, we would sometimes hear gentle scufflings in the large pine tree up above us. Shining a torch up into the dark branches I saw a plump hairy bottom and a short furry tail, climbing among the pine needles. Dormice, it turns out, are more squirrel than mouse.
 
A few days later, readying to leave and chatting to the other travellers staying in the rooms (we thought ourselves beyond mere tourists by now), we could hear the familiar rustling up in the tree. There was a pause in the conversation and then a gentle splash as something fell into a coffee cup. The dormouse had dropped a parting gift of its faecal pellet to wish us on our way, and to give us a unique and lasting memory of non-sleeping dormouse behaviour.



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sarahbroome 29/02/2012 at 17:06

So cute!!

donutsmrs 29/02/2012 at 18:15

That has got to be the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Tootles 29/02/2012 at 18:58

He sounds (and looks) a bit like my other half!  Sooooooo sweet!!

godetia60 01/03/2012 at 01:28

I completely overhaulling my garden to make it more wildlife friendly(as if it is not already)! I would love to find something unusual in ti oneday!

Sandycicco 09/03/2012 at 19:03

I came across my first dormouse in January, in St Lawrence on the Isle of Wight. I was clearing up a heap of weeds that I had left lying around since before Xmas and there in the middle was a sleepy little fellow. Wasn't really sure what to do with him, so after a brief woman to mouse chat, telling him what a cute creature he was, I carefully placed the old weeds on top of him and decided to go and work on another part of the garden! Am not sure if he's still there, but have made a note to self not to leave piles of weeds lying around for too long!!