family of mammals, the dormice

The dormouse (plural: dormice) is a rodent in the family Gliridae.[1] Dormice live in Europe, Africa, and Asia. They are known for their long periods of hibernation. Only one species of dormouse normally lives in the British Isles, so there "dormouse" usually means the hazel dormouse, not the whole family of dormice.

African dormouse, Graphiurus sp.
Scientific classification

Muirhead in Brewster, 1819
Subfamilies and Genera






Dormice are small rodents, with a body length of between 6 and 19 cm (2.4 and 7.5 in), and weighing between 15 and 200 g (0.53 and 7.05 oz). They are usually mouse-like in appearance, but they have furry tails instead of scaly tails. They are usually arboreal animals (living in trees). They move quickly and are good at climbing. Most species are nocturnal. Dormice have a very good sense of hearing. They make noises to each other with different sounds using their voices.[2]

Dormice are omnivorous, usually eating fruits, berries, flowers, nuts and insects. Dormice are different to all other rodents because they do not have a cecum which is a part of the gut. Other animals use the cecum to ferment plants. Their teeth are like squirrels, but they often do not have premolars.

Dormice breed one or two times per year, having an average of four young after a gestation period of 21–32 days. Dormice can live for as long as five years. The young are born without hair and they cannot do anything for themselves. Their eyes do not open until about eighteen days after birth. They are usually ready to reproduce after the end of their first hibernation. Dormice live in small family groups. The area they live in depends on which species they are, and how much food is available.[2]



One of the main characteristics of dormice that live in temperate zones is hibernation. Dormice can hibernate six months out of the year, or even longer if the weather remains cold enough. They sometimes wake for a short amount of time so that they can eat food which they had previously stored nearby. During the summer, they store fat in their bodies, to give the dormouse the energy it needs to survive through the hibernation period.[2]

Hibernation is where the name dormouse comes from. The Anglo-Norman word dormeus means "sleepy (one)"; the word was later changed to resemble the word "mouse". The sleepy behaviour of the Dormouse character in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland also shows this trait.[3]

Relationship with humans


The edible dormouse was thought to be a special food in ancient Rome. It was eaten as an appetizer or as a dessert. When it was eaten as a dessert, it would be dipped in honey and poppy seeds. The Romans had a special place to keep dormice which was called a glirarium.[2] Dormice are still eaten in Slovenia, and apparently also by the Mafia.[4][5] Dormouse fat was used by the Elizabethans to induce sleep.[6]



The earliest fossil evidence of dormice has been found in Europe from the early Eocene times.[7] They were in Africa in the upper Miocene. Their appearance in Asia was not as long ago. Many types of extinct dormouse species have been found. During the Pleistocene, giant dormice the size of large rats (for example Leithia melitensis) lived on the islands of Malta and Sicily.[8]



The family consists of 34 living species, in three subfamilies and 10 genera (although not all scientists agree with this number):

Family: Gliridae

Fossil species



  1. This family is also called Myoxidae or Muscardinidae by some taxonomists.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Baudoin, Claude (1984). Macdonald, D. (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 678–680. ISBN 0-87196-871-1.
  3. In chapter 7, A Mad Tea Party.
  4. BBC: Dormice favoured by Italian mafia seized in drugs raid [1].
  5. Paul Freedman, "Meals that Time Forgot."
  6. BBC News Magazine
  7. Storch, G. & Seiffert, C. (2007). "Extraordinarily preserved specimen of the oldest known glirid from the middle Eocene of Messel (Rodentia)". Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology. 27 (1): 189–194. doi:10.1671/0272-4634(2007)27[189:EPSOTO]2.0.CO;2. S2CID 85909806.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. Savage, RJG, & Long, MR (1986). Mammal Evolution: an illustrated guide. New York: Facts on File. pp. 119. ISBN 0-8160-1194-X.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Holden M.E. 2005. Family Gliridae. pp. 819–841 in Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. D.E. Wilson and D.M. Reeder eds. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Other websites