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Published on Dec 21, 2011
Don't worry, he's okay! He's just sleeping.
He's a dormouse. In winter, dormice hibernate in nests beneath the fallen leaves on the ground. When they wake up in spring, they build woven nests of honeysuckle bark and fresh leaves in hedgerows and woods. If the weather is cold and wet, and food scarce, they save energy by going into 'torpor' -- they curl up into a ball and go to sleep. In fact, in Britain the dormouse may spend up to three quarters of its life asleep, either hibernating in winter or in torpor during summer. It is believed their name comes from the Anglo-Norman word dormeus, meaning "sleepy (one)". This evolved to become dormouse even though they are more closely related to squirrels.
As autumn comes, they prepare for hibernation by fattening up on nuts and berries. Then around the time of the first frost, when the temperatures fall below 15 oC, their metabolism shuts down and they find a secure, dry place to build a nest and sleep. During hibernation they lose about a quarter of their body weight.
They don't actually sound like this in hibernation, so don't worry. The normal sound is a high-pitched 'peep'. This dormouse was found in torpor by conservationists sleeping in a nesting box they had provided. He was only very briefly removed as part of a monitoring project to be checked and weighed to ensure he has enough fat reserves to slumber on through until spring. He was in the hands of a licensed expert and judged to be in good health. Obtaining a licence to handle dormice requires up two years of training!
Next summer he will be up in the branches of the trees searching for a mate and getting ready to gorge on nuts and berries to fatten himself up for the next hibernation.