Garden dormouse (Eliomys quercinus)
|Size||Head-body length: 10 – 18 cm (2)|
Tail length: 9 – 14 cm (2)
|Weight||45 – 120 g (2)|
Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Like other dormice, the garden dormouse is an agile rodent, known for its ability to accumulate fat and hibernate for long periods (3). The short fur is shades of grey and brown on the upperparts and creamy or white on the underparts, and the face usually bears black markings. The tail is cinnamon-brown near the body, black towards the end, and has a white, tufty tip (2). The garden dormouse has the remarkable ability to detach its tail from its body, if seized by a predator (3). The short, curved claws and cushion-like covering of each foot makes this species, like other dormice, an adept climber (3), and its relatively large ears and eyes hint at its well-developed sense of hearing and ability to vocalise (3).
The range of this European dormouse used to extend from Portugal, east to the Ural Mountains in Russia (4). Today, it is found primarily in western Europe, including many islands in the Mediterranean, and only a few scattered populations remain in the east (4).
The misleadingly-named garden dormouse actually primarily inhabits woodland, from sea level up to an altitude of 2,000 metres (4). Occasionally it can be found in gardens and orchards (4), as well as swamps, cultivated fields and rocky areas (2).
The garden dormouse, which is thought to be most active at night, is reported to move with agility in trees, but can also often be found on the ground (2). It shelters and sleeps in a wide variety of places, from hollow trees and branches (2), to cracks in stones walls and houses (4). Large numbers of this dormouse may be found living close to each other, sharing both sleeping and feeding sites, and except during the mating season, there is no fighting (2).
One of the most carnivorous of dormice, this species feeds on insects, small rodents and young birds, as well as nuts and fruit (2). The proportions of these foods in the diet vary depending on the season; for example, in summer, the garden dormouse eats mainly insects and fruit, while in autumn, the diet consists primarily of fruit. This reduction in protein in the diet helps induce sleep in preparation for hibernation, which, in Europe, usually takes place between October and April (3).
Following the dormouse’s emergence from hibernation, it will begin to look for a mate. Female garden dormice are known to use whistles to attract a male (3). Shortly before giving birth, the female will build a nest, usually a globular structure made of grass, leaves and moss, and lined with hairs and feathers, situated in a hole in a tree or a crook of a branch (3). The female will mark the area with her scent and defend the nest (3), and after a gestation period of 22 to 28 days, a litter of two to eight young are born (2). The tiny young open their eyes only after 21 days, but are weaned by the age of four weeks (2).
Populations of garden dormice in eastern Europe have declined significantly over the last 30 years, and may now inhabit less than 50 percent of its former range (4). The cause of these declines are not fully understood, but is believed to be due to changes in, and destruction of, suitable habitat (2) (4). Luckily, populations in western Europe appear to be stable, although it has been suggested that competition with the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) threatens populations in some areas, such as Corsica (4). In addition, in some areas of orchards, this fruit-eating rodent is considered a pest (4).
The garden dormouse is listed on Appendix III of the Bern Convention, meaning that this species is protected, but may be subject to some exploitation if in accordance with certain regulations (5). The garden dormouse is also offered some protection by its occurrence in a number of protected areas (4). However, if this species’ future is to be ensured, the reasons why populations in eastern Europe are in decline must be determined, and appropriate conservation measures implemented (4).
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- Carnivorous: flesh-eating.
- Gestation: the state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
- Hibernation: a winter survival strategy characteristic of some mammals in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer.
IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
- Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
- Baudoin, C. (2006) Dormice. In: Macdonald, D.W. (Ed) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
IUCN 2007 European Mammal Assessment (August, 2008)
Council of Europe: Bern Convention (August, 2008)