NUI Galway researchers are on the hunt for a tiny, nocturnal mammal, which can spend up to three-quarters of its life asleep. The hazel, or common, dormouse is not native to Ireland but a number of confirmed sightings have been made in County Kildare.
A Facebook campaign has been launched by researchers at the university’s Ryan Institute to enlist the public’s help in monitoring sightings of the rodent.
“It is not known how the dormouse got to Ireland,” explains Dr Colin Lawton of the Mammal Ecology Group in NUI Galway. “It is very unlikely they have been here for a long time unnoticed. It is much more probable that they were introduced, possibly by accident while hibernating in hay. Introduced animals which spread quickly and cause such difficulties are often described as ‘invasive’. However, it is unlikely that the dormouse will be an invasive species, given the low numbers and difficulties they are experiencing elsewhere in their range in the UK and Europe. However they need to be monitored and assessed so we can observe any influence they have on the environment.”
Dormice are woodland animals, who nest in shrubs and hedgerows, particularly those containing hazel (as their name suggests ) or brambles. They like to eat fruit, nuts, flowers or insects depending on what is available. As many people know, they like to sleep as well, hibernating for over half the year from October to as late as April or May (hence the sleepy dormouse at the Mad Hatter's tea party in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ). Often they are seen in the summer feeding at bird tables, particularly those close to suitable woodland.
Dormice are about the same size as a mouse, usually weighing less than 20g, although they can be twice that weight just before hibernating. They have large black eyes (they are mostly active at night ) and a thick furry tail quite unlike that of a mouse.
The Mammal Ecology group in NUI Galway have launched a Dormouse Survey, to collect records of this new animal to Ireland. If you have come across one, particularly if you have a photo or a precise location of the sighting, please contact the survey team at [email protected], or on 086 0660208 or visit Dormouse Survey Ireland on Facebook.