The Dormouse Hollow

Dormouse Biology

General Biology: Gliridae

Dormice (Gliridae, Rodentia, Mammalia)

Genus GRAPHIURUS Smuts, 1832
African Dormice

There are 14 species (Genest-Villard 1978b; Holden in Wilson and Reeder 1993; Robbins and Schlitter 1981; Schlitter, Robbins, and Williams 1985; Skinner and Smithers 1990; Smithers 1971):

Skinner and Smithers (1990) retained G. ocularis in the subgenus Graphiurus based on its very small premolar teeth but placed all other species in the separate subgenus Claviglis Jentink, 1888.

Head and body length is 70-165 mm and tail length is 50-135 mm. The weight of G. murinus is 18-30 grams (Kingdon 1974b). The fur varries in texture: it is rather soft and dense in most forms, quite soft in a few, and slightly coarse in others. The general coloration of the upper parts ranges from pale ashy gray to dark slaty gray, and from buffy to reddish brown, tinged with grayish. The underparts are white to grayish, often tinged with buff or reddish brown. Occasionally the fur on the throat and chest is stained by plant or fruit juices. There are variously arranged black and white markings on the face. The top of the tail is usually black or dark brown and the bottom is whitish. In most forms the tail is well furred. As is the case with many crevice-dwelling mammals, the skull is flattened. Females have six or eight mammae.

African dormice inhabit forests and, in southern and eastern Africa, rocky areas in the dry tablelands, generally along waterways. They are arboreal but may frequently be found on the ground. They often shelter in trees and shrubs, making their globular nests in cavities and among the branches. Some animals use crevices in cliffs or stone fences, and others live in thatched roofs. They are sometimes found in boxes of rubble or in the upholstery of old furniture in houses and storerooms. Their occurrence in human habitations has declined through competition with the introduced Rattus rattus (Kingdon 1974b). They are principally nocturnal, but in dense, dark forests they are occasionally active by day. There is little precise information on hibernation, but apparently in certain areas Graphiurus becomes fat by the end of autumn and retires to a shelter, where it may remain dormant through the winter. The diet includes grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, insects, eggs, and small vertebrates. African dormice occasionally become a nuisance by raiding poultry yards.

Van Hensbergen and Channing (1989) calculated an average home range size of 13.9 ha. for male and 8.5 ha. for female G. ocularis. They suggested also that territorial pairs and their young of the year occupy the best habitat and that the young subsequently disperse into less favorable areas. Channing (1984) found a mean population size of 7 adult G. ocularis in a 7.75-ha. study area of South Africa. Breeding in that area occurred in spring and summer, and litter size ranged from 4 to 6 young. According to Kingdon (1974b), G. murinus shows strong signs of territoriality in captivity, and males have been known to kill and eat one another, but in the wild as many as 11 adults of both sexes have been found in a single nest. Vocalizations include various twittering sounds and a surprisingly loud shriek. There is no conclusive evidence of reproductive seasonality, but there do appear to be breeding peaks. In Uganda many pregnant and lactating females were recorded in March, and 1 pregnant female was found in October. In Kenya 5 pregnant females were found in November, and in southwestern Tanzania a pregnant female was taken in January and a juvenile in March. Litters contain 1-5 young, each weighing about 3.5 grams at birth. A captive specimen of G. murinus lived 5 years and 9 months (Jones 1982).

Smithers (1986) classified G. ocularis as rare in South Africa. The IUCN now classifies the species as vulnerable based on an ongoing decline through loss of habitat and human exploitation.

Information taken from: Nowak, R.M. (Ed.). Walker's Mammals of the World. 6th Edition. The John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore and London, 1999.