In my opinion, the hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius is an exceptionally cute mammal which more than merits being described as “adorable”. I think dormice could be used as a humanity check – if another person doesn’t go ‘awwww!’ at the sight of a sleeping dormouse then they’re not human!
More likely to be recognised from Alice in Wonderland, dormice are mainly woodland-dwelling creatures, spending most of their active time up in the tree canopies; they are arboreal. They have beautiful golden-brown fur, long delicate whiskers, large black eyes, and a furred tail that curls over its head when it snoozes. And it snoozes a lot. If the weather suddenly takes a turn for the colder or wetter, it goes in to torpor, a light sleep. It sleeps most of the day, being largely a nocturnal mammal. Then of course it sleeps for the majority of late autumn-early spring as it hibernates.
I find dormice fascinating, in that they don’t really seem to have evolved well in terms of avoiding predators; when they are asleep, or in torpor, they can take up to 15 minutes to fully wake up, and they happen to hibernate in a (admittedly well camouflaged) ball of leaves at the base of tree stumps in woodland. Yet they still hang on and are seen as a flagship species for woodland conservation, doing particularly well in the south and south-east of the UK.
Sadly, dormice have become extinct in several counties within the UK over the last century. As a licenced dormouse surveyor, I volunteer with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species as part of their National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP). The NDMP aims to monitor dormouse populations at existing sites and introduce populations to new sites to expand their current range of distribution. The data collected at monitoring sites across the country are used to look at population trends, breeding success rates, and for research, from habitat management, to distribution, to genetics.
It is such a privilege to be able to see these special animals close up and be a part of their conservation.
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