A dormouse is a rodent of the family Gliridae (this family is also variously called Myoxidae or Muscardinidae by different taxonomists). Dormice are nocturnal animals found in Africa, Asia, and Europe. They are named for their long, dormant hibernation period of six months or longer.[2]

Temporal range: Early Eocene – Recent
African dormouse, Graphiurus sp.
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Suborder: Sciuromorpha
Family: Gliridae
Muirhead in Brewster, 1819[1]
Type genus
Brisson, 1762
Subfamilies and genera




Etymology edit

The word dormouse comes from Middle English dormous, of uncertain origin, possibly from a dialectal element *dor-, from Old Norse dár 'benumbed' and Middle English mous 'mouse'.

The word is sometimes conjectured to come from an Anglo-Norman derivative of dormir 'to sleep', with the second element mistaken for mouse, but no such Anglo-Norman term is known to have existed.[3][4]

The Latin noun glīs, which is the origin of the scientific name, descends from the Proto-Indo-European noun *gl̥h₁éys 'weasel, mouse', and is related to Sanskrit गिरि (girí) 'mouse' and Ancient Greek γαλέη (galéē) 'weasel'.

Characteristics edit

Dormice are small rodents, with body lengths between 6 and 19 cm (2.4 and 7.5 in), and weight between 15 and 180 g (0.53 and 6.35 oz).[5] They are generally mouse-like in appearance, but with furred tails. They are largely arboreal, agile, and well adapted to climbing. Most species are nocturnal. Dormice have an excellent sense of hearing and signal each other with a variety of vocalisations.[6]

Dormice are omnivorous, and typically feed on berries, flowers, fruits, insects, and nuts. They are unique among rodents in that they lack a cecum, a part of the gut used in other species to ferment vegetable matter. Their dental formula is similar to that of squirrels, although they often lack premolars:


Dormice breed once (or, occasionally, twice) each year, producing litters with an average of four young after a gestation period of 22–24 days. They can live for as long as five years. The young are born hairless and helpless, and their eyes do not open until about 18 days after birth. They typically become sexually mature after the end of their first hibernation. Dormice live in small family groups, with home ranges that vary widely between species and depend on the availability of food.[6]

Hibernation edit

The little dormouse, sleeping in the winter nest.

One of the most notable characteristics of those dormice that live in temperate zones is hibernation. They can hibernate six months out of the year, or even longer if the weather does not become warm enough, sometimes waking for brief periods to eat food they had previously stored nearby. During the summer, they accumulate fat in their bodies to nourish them through the hibernation period.[6]

Relationship with humans edit

The edible dormouse (Glis glis) was considered a delicacy in ancient Rome, either as a savoury appetizer or as a dessert (dipped in honey and poppy seeds). The Romans used a special kind of enclosure, a glirarium, to raise and fatten dormice for the table.[6] It is still considered a delicacy in Slovenia and in several places in Croatia, namely Lika, and the islands of Hvar and Brač.[7][8] Dormouse fat was believed by the Elizabethans to induce sleep since the animal put on fat before hibernating.[9]

In more recent years[10] dormice have begun to enter the pet trade, though they are uncommon as pets and are considered an exotic pet. The woodland dormouse (Graphiurus murinus) is the most commonly seen species in the pet trade.[11] Asian garden dormice (Eliomys melanurus) are also occasionally kept as pets.[12]

Evolution edit

The Gliridae are one of the oldest extant rodent families, with a fossil record dating back to the early Eocene. As currently understood, they descended in Europe from early Paleogene ischyromyids such as Microparamys (Sparnacomys) chandoni. The early and middle Eocene genus Eogliravus represents the earliest and most primitive glirid taxon; the oldest species, Eogliravus wildi, is known from isolated teeth from the early Eocene of France and a complete specimen of the early middle Eocene of the Messel pit in Germany.[13] They appear in Africa in the upper Miocene and only relatively recently in Asia. Many types of extinct dormouse species have been identified. During the Pleistocene, giant dormice the size of large rats, Leithia melitensis, lived on the islands of Malta and Sicily.[14]

Classification edit

The family consists of 29 extant species, in three subfamilies and (arguably) nine genera:

Family Gliridae – Dormice

Fossil species edit

References edit

  1. ^ Davis Brewster, ed. Edinburgh Encyclopædia, 1819.
  2. ^ "Species – Dormouse". The Mammal Society. Archived from the original on March 8, 2018. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
  3. ^ Random House Dictionary, dormouse.
  4. ^ Wedgwood, Hensleigh (1855). "On False Etymologies". Transactions of the Philological Society (6): 66.
  5. ^ Juškaitis, R. (2001). "Weight changes of the common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius L.) during the year in Lithuania" (PDF). Trakya University Journal of Scientific Research.
  6. ^ a b c d Baudoin, Claude (1984). Macdonald, D. (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 678–680. ISBN 978-0-87196-871-5.
  7. ^ Freedman, Paul (March 6, 2008). "Meals that Time Forgot". Gourmet.com. Archived from the original on March 11, 2008. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
  8. ^ Kolumbić, Igor. "Fifth Puhijada". otok-hvar.com. Hvar: Offero Prima d.o.o. Archived from the original on March 7, 2021. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
  9. ^ "10 ways to get a really good sleep". BBC. 27 March 2009. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
  10. ^ "www.oocities.org/efexotics/africandormouse.html". 2009. As far as I know, my own pet shop in Cambridgeshire was the first pet shop in Britain to regularly stock the species (this was as recently as the 1990s).
  11. ^ "Crittery Exotics". crittery.co.uk.
  12. ^ "Crittery Exotics". crittery.co.uk.
  13. ^ Storch, G.; Seiffert, C. (2007). "Extraordinarily preserved specimen of the oldest known glirid from the middle Eocene of Messel (Rodentia)". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 27 (1): 189–194. doi:10.1671/0272-4634(2007)27[189:EPSOTO]2.0.CO;2. S2CID 85909806.
  14. ^ Savage, RJG; Long, MR (1986). Mammal Evolution: an illustrated guide. New York: Facts on File. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-8160-1194-0.
  15. ^ Holden, Mary Ellen; Levine, Rebecca S (2009). "Chapter 9. Systematic Revision of Sub-Saharan African Dormice (Rodentia: Gliridae: Graphiurus) Part II: Description of a New Species of Graphiurus from the Central Congo Basin, Including Morphological and Ecological Niche Comparisons with G. crassicaudatus and G. lorraineus". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 331: 314–355. doi:10.1206/582-9.1. S2CID 85409018.

Further reading edit

  • Holden, M. E. (2005). "Family Gliridae". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. (eds.). Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 819–841.

External links edit