The edible dormouse also known as the fat dormouse was kept as food animal by the Ancient Romans who bred them in pits or pot like cages. In some countries in Eastern Europe they are still trapped and eaten as a delicacy. It is believed that it was accidentally introduced into the UK in 1902 and as an introduced species it has little protection, although certain methods of kill or capture are illegal, unlike the native Hazel Dormouse which is strictly protected.
The Edible dormouse is distinctive with a very bushy tail, thick silvery fur and a white belly, giving it a squirrel like look. They are fairly small with a body length of a maximum of 19cm and weighing at most 200g. They are nocturnal with excellent hearing. The name Dormouse means ‘Sleepy one’ referring to the hibernation which the animal undertakes. Dormice can hibernate for half the year or even longer if the weather is cold, stirring only to eat food stored nearby. Like most animals that hibernate they build up food reserves and body fat during the summer, being truly fat dormice before hibernation, they often hibernate in family groups.
Breeding occurs during the summer with the females producing one litter a year of up to 9 young. As with many mammals the young are born blind, furless and totally dependent on their mother. Within 4 weeks they are weaned and become sexually active after the first hibernation
A typical nest is underground or in a cavity in tree which the mice line with grass, feathers and hair. In the UK the range for the edible dormouse is very limited being mainly in the Chiltern Hills but as the animal is fairly successful this range is increasing. It is more common in Europe but loss of habitat has lead to a decline in range and numbers
It is well adapted for climbing and prefers chestnuts and acorns, but often feeds on fruit, bark, fungi and insects but has been known to take bird eggs and young birds. The Edible Dormouse can do serious damage to fruit trees by eating the fruit and stripping bark, in an urban environment they will chew wires and gnaw through wood. Unusually for Rodents they lack the part of the gut known as the cecum which is used to digest vegetable matter.