Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), Fig. 20, a member of the Rodentia and family Myoxidae, appears to be intermediate between the mice (Muridae) and the squirrels (Sciuridae), and there are three varieties, the Common, the Garden, and the Hazel, local in respective distribution, the two former being confined to the warmer tracts of southern and central England, and the latter more frequent throughout the northern tracts of Europe. The dormice live in copses and among brushwood, through which they make their way with much rapidity, but not with the spright-liness and activity of the squirrels. The pace is a sort of leap, in which assistance appears to be afforded by the tail. The nest is made of grass, moss and dried leaves, about 6 inches in diameter, and open only from above. The number of young is generally three or four. It is not uncommon for several nests to be close to each other, evincing its fondness of society.

The Dormouse.

Fig. 20. - The Dormouse.

Dormice feed during the night-time and hybernate during the winter, with few interruptions, only a warm day rousing them from their slumbers when rolled up with the tail coiled round the body. Before retiring for the winter into the hollows of trees or prepared nests, they lay up a supply of food, such as nuts, acorns and berries. In the spring and early summer they nibble off the needles of young sprays of conifers, and peel the tender rind from young broad-leaved trees, such as alder, beech, birch and hazel, their attention being more confined to the broad-leaved species than to coniferous trees; and afterwards they feed upon fruits, hazel nuts, chestnuts, beech-mast, and acorns, with, perchance, grain. They are also credited with robbing the nests of certain insectivorous birds of their young broods.