Spotted the sleepy mouse?
THE Hazel Dormouse is the latest addition to Ireland's collection of wild mammals. Sightings of it have been confirmed in Co Kildare and since the species may occur in other counties a Galway-based survey team has issued an appeal for information.
The Hazel Dormouse is a small nocturnal, woodland rodent that differs from other mice in that it has a furry tail like a squirrel rather than the naked, scaly tail that we are used to seeing in the Wood Mouse, House Mouse and Brown Rat.
The 'dor' part of its name refers to the fact that the animal sleeps a lot; some three-quarters of each 'waking' day is spent in deep slumber and it may hibernate for up to six months of the year.
The dormouse family comprises some 29 species. The best-known species is probably the Edible Dormouse still eaten in part of Europe. The ancient Romans were so fond of them that they bred and fattened them for the table. The delicacy was eaten either as a savoury appetiser or as a dessert when dipped in honey and coated with poppy seeds.
The Hazel Dormouse is considered native to Britain. How it got to Ireland is unknown. One possible suggested route is that it arrived here by accident hibernating in imported hay.
There are two schools of thought on the subject of aliens. The off-with-their-heads school holds that aliens are generally unwelcome, that we need to protect and conserve the purity of what we regard as our native fauna and flora and that ethnic cleansing needs to be rigorously pursued to exterminate polluting aliens.
The second school of thought is more welcoming and tolerant. It holds that nature should be permitted to take its course, that we should welcome any and all additions and that we should stop interfering and trying to impose our will on the natural world.
The Hazel Dormouse is such a cute little creature that it is extremely likely to win popular support. Its possible appearance on a bird feeder in someone's garden will certainly be greeted with more delight than the appearance of the universally reviled Brown Rat.
Whether you view Ireland's latest alien mammal as a friend or foe the NUI Galway people would welcome information about the whereabouts of dormice in Ireland. Contact them by phone at 086 0660208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Search for Dormouse Survey Ireland on Facebook.