The word “dormouse” comes from the French word “dormir,” which means to sleep. And a hundred years ago, if you were trimming a hedge in Cornwall or Kent (England), you might come upon a lovely sleeping dormouse. You would then take the sleeping mouse and put him in your pocket and take him home and make him your pet named Percy or Nellie or perhaps Leslie. You would feed them hazel nuts or little spring flowers. You are now best friends with a Hazel Dormouse.
But that was a hundred years ago. Now, the use of machines instead of hand tools makes noticing the sleepy dormice difficult. And once again, changes in woodland habitats have dwindled their numbers.
The Brits are very fond of their dormice. “National Dormouse Week” is in late October and coincides with the “Great Nut Hunt” which encourages people to look for nibbled hazel nuts (dormice eat a small hole and then extract the kernel in pieces) to determine if dormice are in the area.
Lewis Carroll made the dormouse famous in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Here is a scene from the Mad Hatter’s tea party:
The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: `–that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness– you know you say things are “much of a muchness”–did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?’
`Really, now you ask me,’ said Alice, very much confused, `I don’t think–‘
`Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter.
This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Dormouse fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her: the last time she saw them, they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot.
`At any rate I’ll never go THERE again!’ said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. `It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!’
From Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Chapter VII, A Mad Tea-Party
**The common dormouse is classified as Least Concern (LC) by the IUCN Red List and Vulnerable in the UK.