Dormouse - Encyclopedia

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DORMOUSE (a word usually taken to be connected with Lat. dormire, to sleep, with "mouse" added, cf. Germ. Schlafratte; it is not a corruption of Fr. dormeuse; Skeat suggests a connexion with Icel. ddr, benumbed, cf. Eng. "doze"), the name of a small British rodent mammal having the general appearance of a squirrel. This rodent, Muscardinus avellanarius, is the sole representative of its genus, but belongs to a family - the Gliridae, or Myoxidae - containing a small number of Old World species. All the dormice are small rodents (although many of them are double the size of the British species), of arboreal habits, and for the most part of squirrel-like appearance; some of their most distinctive features being internal. In the more typical members of the group, forming the sub-family Glirinae, there are four pairs of cheek-teeth, which are rooted and have transverse enamel-folds. As the characters of the genera are given in the article RoDENT1A it will suffice to state that the typical genus Glis is represented by the large European edible dormouse, G. vulgaris (or G. glis), a grey species with black markings known in Germany as Siebenschldfer; the genus ranges from continental Europe to Japan. The common dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius, ranging from England to Russia and Asia, is of the size of a mouse and mainly chestnutcoloured. The third genus is represented by the continental lerot, or garden-dormouse, Eliomys guercinus, which is a large particoloured species, with several local forms - either species or races. Lastly, Graphiurus, of which the species are also large, is solely African. In their arboreal life, and the habit of sitting up on their hind-legs with their food grasped in the fore-paws, dormice are like squirrels, from which they differ in being completely nocturnal. They live either among bushes or in trees, and make a neat nest for the reception of their young, which are born blind. The species inhabiting cold climates construct a winter nest in which they hibernate, waking up at times to feed on an accumulated store of nuts and other food. Before retiring they become very fat, and at such times the edible dormouse is a favourite article of diet on the Continent. At the beginning of the cold season the common dormouse retires to its nest, and curling itself up in a ball, becomes dormant. A warmer day than usual restores it to temporary activity, and then it supplies itself with food from its autumn hoard, again becoming torpid till roused by the advent of spring. The young are generally four in number, and are produced twice a year. They are born blind, but in a marvellously short period are able to cater for themselves; and their hibernation begins later in the season than with the adults. The fur of the dormouse is tawny above and paler beneath, with a white patch on the throat. A second subfamily is represented by the Indian Platacanthomys and the Chinese Typhlomys, in which there are only three pairs of cheek-teeth; thus connecting the more typical members of the family with the Muridae. (R. L.*)

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