I had to do another dormouse post. Just look at these photos! Also Robert has, this weekend, been to the 7th International Dormouse Conference, attended by some 150 people from all over Europe and even as far a field as Japan and South Africa, all passionate about these amazingly appealing mammals.
Through Robert’s interest I’m also learning quite a bit about them too. Dormice do best in places that have hot summers and cold winters, like many central and eastern European countries, so the cool wet summer we’ve been having must have been as difficult for them as it was for us. They will have delayed their breeding for as long as possible, but by late August must have decided it’s now or never, and the adult females got on with the business of constructing their nests of woven grass, waterproofed with layers of leaves, in as sheltered and as warm places as possible. Earlier this month, Robert found one such nest low down in bramble and rose growth on the edge of one of our hedges, and when he gently disturbed it an adult emerged, which he thought looked like a lactating female as she was rather thin. On Sunday evening he went back and was bowled over when three young came out of the nest and posed for him on rose and rush stems out in the open. They are quite the cutest of creatures. Luckily there are still plenty of hips and other fruits and berries around, so it is likely that these youngsters will manage to put on enough weight to safely go into hibernation, probably sometimes in October. A bit later, and they probably would not have survived.
At the conference Robert heard that in Lithuania, where they estimate they have a staggering one million dormice (the country remains densely wooded), females sometimes produce three broods a year, although this is exceptional. In England, they sometimes manage two, although probably not this year! But at least on Locks Park one female has succeeded in producing a litter of three, or possibly more, young to keep the population going, together with surviving adults which can live for four years in the wild (and six in captivity). Robert also learnt that dormice are promiscuous – males and females don’t form pair bonds, instead females mate with several males, so the young in a single litter may all have different fathers; also males try their luck as often as they can, travelling quite large distances in the process. This, did you know, is the normal pattern of mating behaviour in mammals – and our ‘human systems’, of either marriage or harems, are unusual, but not unknown. Umm, well, maybe. Possibly those researchers are not in the habit of reading Hello and OK! magazines or watching the odd soap on telly.
But back to those oh-so-appealing photos. My mother had a pet dormouse when she was a school girl; I have ancient photos of her with him, he was called Rusty. I’m green with envy!