torpid dormouse

Dormice don’t read text books

One of the things I love about monitoring dormice is the way they frequently surprise me. When I first started learning about dormice I was amazed at how much we don’t know about them. Through projects like the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme we’re learning all the time, and it’s great to be able to contribute to this research. Sometimes I think they deliberately set out to prove the textbooks (and me) wrong.

Although October is usually a good month for dormouse monitoring, I wasn’t expecting to see any at the site I helped with this month. No dormice were found in the previous few checks. I was prepared for a pleasant but mouseless scramble round the woods.

I was very happy to be proven wrong. We found six dormice, all of decent weights (although none were very chubby). For some reason, they were all in pairs this time. Dormice aren’t supposed to be social animals, at least when they’re adult and not-breeding. We had a box with a male and a female, and two boxes with two females in. All adults. It’s not like there weren’t plenty of other empty boxes to choose from, if they’d wanted some peace and quiet.

Another thing dormice are supposed to not do is take food into their boxes. Unlike woodmice who cache nuts, dormice tend to eat outside where they find the food. Once again the contrary mice were intent on proving the experts wrong, as we found a nut nibbled by a dormouse in an otherwise empty box. The nibbled nut had since been taken over by a spider.

Apart from the dormice it was a quiet box check. No wood mice, yellow-necked mice or shrews, and of course the birds finished nesting a long time ago.

That may well be my last check for the year, depending on how cold it gets over the next month. The dormice will soon start constructing their hibernation nests, down on the woodland floor (or at least if they’re following the advice of the text books they will). Time for me to start working on something similar?

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