Dormice can be found in the wild in colony settings of up to 11 animals, so it can be assumed that contact with various conspecifics is essential for the well being of your dormouse, as well as having the larger colony setup the way to go for breeding purposes. Interaction with conspecifics must begin from an early age to prevent territorialism. Single gender colony arrangements are fine, as long as the group has been raised together from infancy.
They average about 4 inches in length, nose to vent, with the tail being a slightly shorter length. They have soft gray/tan fur, black markings on the face and head, light underbelly, large pivoting ears, very large dark eyes, and tiny claws on each toe. They look like a miniature sugar glider or squirrel. The smaller size is advantageous to the fanciers who can keep them comfortably in a 10 gallon aquarium or the equivalent. They must have a securely fastened (locking preferable) mesh lid, as they are very strong for their size, and VERY quick and agile! One of their seemingly favourite nocturnal activities is to find a way up to the mesh screen and use it as a racetrack. For this reason, be sure that the mesh of the screen is 1/4" or smaller in size.
The African Dormouse is a nocturnal creature, as you can probably tell from the size of its eyes and ears. Although most literature suggests they would be comfortable at normal household temperatures, I find mine do much better, eat more, and are much more active at higher temperatures. I keep mine at about 85F, supplementing my normal household heat by keeping their tank on top of Luke's nile monitor's cage (heated with a heat mat 24 hours and a pr of basking lamps during the day) as well as maintaining a 50W red lamp on top of their screen. There is a 16" drop between the lamp and the substrate, giving the dormice plenty of options for thermo-regulating. Warning: If the temperature drops below 65F the dormouse will go dormant! If this happens, gently take him out of the cage and warm him up in your hand or shirt until he becomes a bit more active. Without a significant fat supply, he cannot go into hibernation for an extended period of time.
Importing these animals is still considered legal, and some breeders have found that imported specimens tend to be nippy, flightly and unhandlable. However, importing wild caught stock is essential for obtaining unrelated bloodlines for breeding purposes. Dormice MUST be handled from birth to bring out their trust and to calm them down for a pet situation.
* 10 gallon or larger aquarium with a securely locking screen mesh lid, 1/4" or smaller mesh
* climbing apparatus
* hanging water bottle
* heating system
* nestbox: you can fill it with cotton batting, shavings, shredded paper (make sure it's soy based ink or no ink), but please stay away from cedar bedding.
* toys: toilet paper rolls, coconut shells, securely placed rocks for ledges, PVC tubes, terra cotta planters, small bird nest boxes, rodent tubes.
* ceramic food dish (they tend to play with or tip plastic ones)
* chew sticks or pieces of rodent diet for their teeth maintenance
As far as diet, nothing is really mentioned in the literature I have found, other than in Walker's 'Mammals of the World, 4th Ed.' which states: "Diet includes grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, insects, eggs, and small vertebrates. African dormice occasionally become a nuisance by raiding poultry yards." For this reason, I mix commercial hamster feed with a good parrot nut and fruit mix (Sun Seed has a great mix) and add a couple of crickets or small mealworms twice a week, per animal. Make sure that the insects are smaller than the dormouse's head for safety's sake. I also will add some cooked egg (shell included) for calcium and protein.
One of the most common complaints from breeders is the tendency for dormice to eat their babies. There is no evidence of reproductive seasons, but there do appear to be peaks in the year when more litters are born than other times. There may be such things as humidity or weather pattern changes that we cannot account for in the domestic situation, food availablity such as an increase in protein during gestation, etc. More research is needed in this area. Those who have had viable and full term litters are welcome to share their successes.
The majority of this information came from either my own personal experience with dormice or the 1997 edition of Critters USA magazine.
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