© Stuart M Bennett 2003
Myoxus glis
(Glis glis)

At the turn of the century, Lord Rothschild introduced the edible or fat dormouse Glis glis from Europe to his estate at Tring, Hertfordshire in the UK. This soft squirrel like , 6 inch long, silvery-grey animal, known locally as the little chinchilla, now inhabits a triangular area bounded by Beaconsfield, Aylesbury and Luton. It is normally a woodland species but has taken to living in outhouses, barns and lofts of large country houses, especially where fruit is stored. It was a delicacy in Roman times and was fattened up on walnuts for banquets.

Technical Stuff:

Geographic Range:
Myoxus glis is a European species. It occurs from France and northern Spain to the Volga River and northern Iran. M. glis also occurs on the islands of Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, Crete, and Corfu. (Nowak 1991)

Physical Characteristics:
The approximate length of the head-body is 14-20 cm. They have a gray back and head with dark, narrow rings around the eyes. The underparts are white or yellowish. Their pelage is short, soft, and thick. These animals are squirrel-like with large and rounded ears, small eyes, and a long bushy tail (11-19 cm). The hands and feet are both equipped with hard pads for use in climbing. The four digits of the forefeet and the five digits of the hindfeet have short, curved claws. Myoxus glis is sciurognathous and myomorphous. Dental formula: 1/1, 0/0, 1/1, 3/3. (Nowak 1991; Niethammer 1990; MacDonald 1984)

Natural History:
Food Habits:
Myoxus glis is omnivorous. It feeds mainly on seeds, leaves, buds, nuts, berries, acorns, and soft fruits. They eat insects occasionally and have been known to eat small birds. (Niethammer 1990; Nowak 1991)

Myoxus glis have one litter a year. The litter can consist of 1-11 individuals, but usually falls in the range of 4-6 offspring. Their gestation period is 30-32 days and the young weigh 1-2 g at birth. M. glis is usually weaned at 5-6 weeks and reaches maturity after 1-2 years. To attract males to mate, the females will drag their anal region across the ground to produce an odor marking. These trails are eagerly sniffed by the males, which then leave their marks on top. Also, edible dormice can make a whistling sounds at short intervals over long periods, which announce their willingness to mate. The wanting male pursues the female and makes a fine chirping sound with its mouth closed. At first, the female runs away or defends itself, purring and rattling its teeth and beating its paws. It may even jump the male and bite it. These acts are believed to be play because when the male gives up the female will follow it.

After mating, the female spends more time bringing nesting material into the den and becomes very sensitive to interference. It uses hairs and feathers as lining material. The nests are usually off the ground, in a hole in a tree for example. The young of M. glis exit the womb with the hind end first. The offspring are quite undeveloped at birth. The external ears unfold after 5 days; the auditory canal opens after 12 days; the eyelids separate after 21 days; the lower rodent teeth come through after 13 days while the upper ones come through after 2o days.

Mating season for M. glis is usually in July. The young are born around August, which gives about two months of growing time before they have to hibernate at the end of October.

(Niethammer 1990; MacDonald 1984)

The edible dormouse is primarily nocturnal and crepuscular, though occasionally it is active during the day. It is highly arboreal, and its agility in the trees may exceed that of squirrels. Some have been known to leap 7-10 meters. It has exceptionally good senses of vision, hearing, smell, and touch (through its vibrissae). Individuals visit many trees each night in search for food. The edible dormouse is territorial, marking its space by glandular secretions. Individuals are quarrelsome, and males have been reported to fight savagely during breeding season. Males usually leave the females after mating in search for other females. Myoxus glis hibernates from September/October to May/June. In late summer, edible dormice dig tunnels about 3-6 feet long and about 6-24 inches deep When it begins to get cold, most edible dormice retire to these tunnels where they are protected from frost. Some edible dormice winter aboveground in haylofts, under decayed trees, in beehouses, or in the nests of red squirrels. Several animals have been found hibernating together. This is especially common for females. The decisive signal to begin storing fat for hibernation seems to be the decreasing length of daylight. While hibernating, they decrease the body heat generated to 2 percent of the amount during the waking state; the breathing rate decreases to about 1-3 respirations per minute. They wake up immediately when touched, which shows that their nervous system works well during hibernation.

(Niethammer 1990; Melnyk 1979)

Myoxus glis inhabits inhabits deciduous or mixed forests and fruit orchards in both the lowlands and mountains. The most common site for daily shelter is the hollow of trees. The hollows may be lined with grass or other vegetation. M. glis also shelters in crevices between rocks, burrows among tree roots, woodpecker holes, piles of mulch, attics, barns, and artificial nest boxes. (Nowak 1991)

Biomes: temperate forest & rainforest

Economic Importance for Humans:

Myoxus glis is known for its luxuriant fur. In ancient Rome, its meat was considered a delicacy. In some parts of Europe, the meat of M. glis is still considered a gourmet dish. (Nowak 1991)

In some areas Myoxus glis is considered very harmful to the production of fruit and wine. M. glis has been known to do considerable damage to trees and is considered a nuisance. (Hoodless 1993; Nowak 1991)

Status: no special status

Myoxus glis is still rather common in Europe, occurring about 1 animal per hectare to 30 animals per hectare. Their numbers have decreased as a result of habitat destruction. (Niethammer 1990)

Other Comments:
The taxonomy of this species has changed. Many references refer to Myoxus glis as Glis glis and placed it in the family Gliridae, rather than Myoxidae. In addition to Edible dormouse, its common name has been refered to as Fat dormouse or Squirrel-tailed dormouse.

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