THE HUNT is on for a new species to Ireland, the dormouse.
Researchers at NUI Galway are looking for the tiny mammal after two dormice were found and a number sighted in Co. Kildare.
The dormouse is not native to Ireland, but common in England and Europe, and it is thought it may have been introduced by accident.
It is nocturnal and hibernates for over half the year, from October to as late as May.
“We think it’s possible they could have been moved here while hibernating in hay,” said Dr Colin Lawton of the Mammal Ecology Group in NUI Galway.
Dr Lawton thinks it is unlikely that the dormice have been here for a long time unnoticed, due to the number of sightings reported in a short period of time.
The dormouse is about the same size as a mouse, but has a few attributes that differentiate it from Ireland’s common house and wood mice.
“The dormouse looks more like a squirrel, in that they have quite big black eyes and a fluffy tail,” said Dr Lawton. “The tail is the main giveaway.”
The introduction of a new species is generally not considered to be a good thing as the new species can often interfere with the native wildlife.
However in this case, the researchers believe the dormouse will not be a threat to any of Ireland’s native species.
“But until we find the dormice and properly observe them, we can’t tell,” said Dr Lawton.
The researchers have launched a Dormouse Survey to collect photos and records of sightings of the dormouse in Ireland.
Anyone who thinks they may have spotted a dormouse can contact them on the Dormouse Survey Ireland Facebook page.