Dormouse, a small rodent of the jerboa family, belonging to the genus myoxus (Gme-lin); this genus has since been subdivided, with the addition of the genera muscardinus (Ray) and graphiurus (F. Cuv.). The genus myoxus has two incisors above and below, and four molars on each side of each jaw divided by numerous transverse bands; the eyes are large and prominent; the ears large; the whiskers long; no cheek pouches; fore feet with four toes and the rudiment of a fifth; hind feet five-toed; tail long and hairy; fur soft; claws sharp. Dormice live principally on trees, eating fruits, and pass the winter in a state of lethargy, having collected a store of food for use in the spring. All are said by Cuvier to be destitute of a ca3cum. The best known species are all European. The largest, the fat dormouse or loir (M. glis, Linn.), is about 6 in. long, of an ashy brown above, whitish below, with brown about the eyes; the whiskers are strong; the tail is much like that of a squirrel. It resembles the squirrel in its manners, though it is less active, climbing trees with facility, and rarely descending to the ground; it makes a nest of moss in hollow trees, couples in the spring, and brings forth four or five at a birth; it is confined to the south of Europe, and in Italy has from remote times been used as food.
As cold weather approaches, the dormouse rolls itself into a ball, and in this state is found in winter in holes of trees and clefts of rocks; if kept in a warm room during winter, it continues active like ordinary animals; when the thermometer descends to about 48° F. it begins to grow torpid, and becomes entirely so at about 42°; according to the experiments of M. Mangili of Pavia, a temperature of 32°, or lower, revives the animal. When torpid, it appears as if dead, with the eyes closed, the breathing being suspended for a period of from 5 to 20 minutes, and then renewed for from 15 to 30 respirations, with a corresponding retardation of the circulation. The garden dormouse, or lerot (M. quercinus, Linn.), is smaller, with a thicker body, more pointed muzzle, and more thinly haired tail; the color is reddish gray above and white below, black round the eyes to the shoulders, tail black with a white tuft. This species lives in gardens, and sometimes enters houses; it often does mischief in orchards, always selecting the choicest fruit; it hibernates, eight or ten being sometimes found together rolled up in a magazine of food; the scent is like that of the rat, and the flesh is not used as food; it is confined to temperate Europe. The common dormouse (muscardinus axcllanarius, Linn.) is not much larger than a mouse, but the head is shorter, the muzzle less pointed, and the eyes larger; the color above is a cinnamon red, and below whitish; the tail, as long as the body and flattened horizontally, is covered with hair, quite short, and arranged on each side like the barbs of a feather.
This species inhabits the woods, hibernating in the clefts of trees, and is rarely found in gardens or houses. The name dormouse, or sleeping mouse, is best applied to this species, as it most readily falls into the lethargic state, from which it is aroused either by a too high or a too low temperature, becoming active in less than half an hour; when awakened, like the other species, it partakes moderately of food. It is found in temperate Europe, occasionally in England. The Cape dormouse (graphiurus ca-pensis, F. Cuv.) is found in South Africa; the length is 7 1/2 in. of which the tail is 3 1/2; the color is bluish gray above and whitish below; the muzzle and spots above and behind the ear white, behind the chin rufous; tail bushy and penniform, grayish above and blackish below. - Dormice are kept as pets, and may be fed on all kinds of grain and nuts; the inner part of the cage should be stuffed with fine hay, and the whole kept very clean; in winter they should be kept in a warm room to prevent their going to sleep.
Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius).