This months’ dormouse check at Scotney Castle is the last month of recording for the Dormouse Monitoring Programme. It is also the month when dormice start moving down from the tree tops towards the ground to get ready for hibernation, so I was hoping to see one in torpor (asleep). We did. And my god are they cute! When dormice are disturbed they begin to wake up, so by the time we got round to weighing him he was active, if a bit bleary-eyed. During warm weather like this morning, this isn’t too much of a problem and he could just fall back asleep afterwards, but we kept handling to a minimum.
This little fellow weighed about 30 grams, which is a good weight to see dormice through the winter. When in hibernation, their metabolism slows right down and their temperature drops to that of the surrounding environment in order to conserve energy. They make nests on the ground, usually in coppice stool bases or under leaf litter, but unlike their normal nests, they seal the entrance so they are completely hidden from the world. In this nest they will sleep through till spring when food starts to become available once more.
The tufty bit at the end of the nest in this photo is where the entrance has been sealed, and in which the dormouse above was found. Not the best quality photo, but hey. The photo below it is of a normal nest used for breeding or during torpor.
Every 10 days or so, dormice will wake up to return their body temperature to normal to get blood pumping around their body and expel any toxins. They then go back into torpor and decrease their body temperature again. Hibernating on the ground results in a fairly consistant tempertaure surrounding the nest and also provides damp conditions; as dormice to not eat or drink during hibernation, sleeping somewhere damp will reduce water loss through respiration and evaporation, helping to keep them hydrated.
This young lady scared the life out of me when she shot out of the nest box, showing that while some sleepy males are starting to bed down for the winter, others are taking advantage of warmer weather to prepare for the cold months ahead.