The edible dormouse is a small rodent living in Europe and some of eastern Asia. Just because its name says it is edible, you probably don’t want to eat it, especially if it is as cute as the one in the picture above. The back and sides of this rodent are grayish-brown, and their tummies are white to yellow in color. Males and females have similar coloring, but juveniles are a duller gray than the adults. Because these animals frequently climb trees, they have bare, rough pads to help them grip. Edible dormice have a ring of darker fur around their eyes, this makes their eyes seem larger than they actually are. Theses mammals are also called fat dormice. Both of their names probably come from the ancient Roman practice of capturing these animals, confining them in areas with large amounts of food, and fattening them up for a feast.
Not including their tail, fat dormice can be from 5 to 9 inches (13-23 cm) in length. Their tail alone can be 4-8 inches (10-21 cm). Edible dormice have a large weight range, with adults measuring from 2.5 to 8.8 oz. (70-250 g). The higher weight is about the same weight as 55 sheets of printer paper and is normally only reached right before hibernating. Males and females are about the same size.
Habitat and range
Edible dormice inhabit most of Europe. They do not inhabit much of the Iberian Peninsula, Scandinavia, the British Isles, or Iceland. You can see a small area they inhabit in southern Great Britain. They are actually an invasive species here. In 1902, this species was purposefully imported to Great Britain. They are now thriving there, if only in a relatively small area. Fat dormice live in forests, specifically deciduous forests and not forests with cone-bearing trees such as pines. They have also been seen in suburbs and cities. They prefer elevations from sea level to 1.2 miles (2 km) above sea level.
Fat dormice are omnivores, but the majority of their diet consists of plant matter. Their main foods are seeds and nuts, but they also consume berries, fruits, buds, leaves, bark, and fungi. Among the animals eaten by these rodents are insects, bird eggs, and fledglings.
Edible dormice have an unusually long hibernation period. They start their winter sleep between September and November and don’t wake up until May or June. The exact dates probably depend on the weather for that year. Unlike most small mammals, namely squirrels, fat dormice do not collect and store food to feast on during the winter. Instead they survive on the large fat reserves they build up in their bodies during the late summer or early fall. This may be another reason they are called fat dormice. These animals usually hibernate underground and are often found up to three feet (1 m) below the surface! They are also sometimes found in peoples’ attics or cellars.
Status and threats
The IUCN Redlist classifies the edible dormouse as “Least Concern.” One of the major threats to this animal is humans hunting it mainly for sport but also for food. Yes, people today actually still eat the edible dormouse. Their fur is sometimes used commercially. Some people consider these rodents pests because they consume agricultural products. They also can harm things in peoples’ attics, and the noises they make in peoples’ houses often drive people to eliminate the source of the noise. Click here to see a video about these animals in someone’s attic. In Italy the hunting of this species is illegal, but some people still do it.
Mating season occurs right after the adults wake up from hibernating; if they wait too long, they may not have a chance to breed before they must start hibernating again. Some years all edible dormice in a certain area may decide not to breed due to lack of food. In these years they are only above ground for a few weeks before hibernating again.
After a 20 to 31 day gestation period, females give birth to a single litter of two to ten pups. A single nest may contain more young because sometimes multiple females share the same nest and help nurse each other’s offspring. The young are born in between July and September, as this is the time of year the most food is available. They young do not open their eyes until about three weeks after birth, but one week later they are ready to leave the nest. They must develop quickly because in just a few months they must hibernate in order to survive the winter. Some young edible dormice are ready to breed the year after they are born, but some females wait to mate until their third year. These small mammals are long-lived for rodents of their size. They can live up to nine years.
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- Animals of the world. Tom Jackson, ISBN: 978-1780191089
- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
- Edible dormouse – Bertille de Fombelle
- Edible dormouse range – public domain
- Mystery animal – JJ Harrison