I have been lucky to see such a number of dormice over the last few days – at the weekend I went out to Scotney Castle for my monthly visit to do the dormouse checks there with my trainer. And yesterday, myself and my work colleagues went to the Wildwood Trust in Kent for a refresher course on general ecology and handling. For me, it reinforced what I had learned from the previous course a few months ago.
At Scotney Castle, we found none of the males that were present before, though we did find quite a few new nests. But we did find one female with seven young! The normal litter size for dromice is 4-5. These were recorded as grey eyes open, as they only weighed about 5.8 grams each. They were adorable.
We also found a nest containing three young yellow-necked mice, that jumped about in the bags like cracker-jacks. You do not want a bite of these guys, it hurts a lot…
As there were only four of us on the bespoke course yesterday, we were able to each get quite a bit of handling. September is one of the main months when dormice breed; in a good year this month might see a female’s second or even third litter, but in a bad year such as this, it might be the only one. The five young captive bred dormice we got to handle were the third litter of this year, which came as quite a surprise to Hazel, who lead the workshop.
Young dormice become independent from their mother at about 40 days, and are recorded as one of four categories when seen:
- Pinkies – these are blind, hairless young and quite dependent on their mother for everything. They do not start to grow fur until they are about 1 week old.
- Grey, eyes closed – at this stage, the babies begin to grow dark grey/brown hair, but their eyes remain closed for another week or so.
- Grey, eyes open – at about 3 weeks old, their eyes open and their hair grows thicker and starts to turn more brown.
- Juvenile – when the young reach approx 10g andfrom around 6 weeks onwards, they become independent from their mother and look like minature dormice but with slightly darker fur.
One of the blogs I follow has some lovely pictures and more information on dormice – in particular a photo of ‘pinkies’: http://naturanaute.com/2012/08/11/dormouse-discovery/.
In the below photo, you can see the difference between an adult dormouse tail and a young one (juvenile in this case) – the mothers is much fluffier and lighter, more of a sandy colour, whilst her baby has a much smoother, darker tail. Not too good a quality photo, as my camera refused to focus The very bottom photo shows what is thought as a recessive gentic trait; a white tail tip. Normally these are found in females, but occasionally they are found in males, such as this one.
The mother was post lactating, which means her litter is being weaned off her milk, but her nipples are still slightly swollen and the fur around the base mostly absent – feeding five young must be hard work! Her nipple can be seen near the middle finger.
And as for the father…. well. He was enjoying peace and quite from his offspring in his own box!