Physical characteristics

In appearance, dormice have a squirrel or sometimes chipmunk-like shape. They vary considerably in size between species: an edible dormouse (Myoxus glis) is nearly two and a half times the length of a Japanese dormouse (Myoxus japon-icus), for example. Most dormice are highly adapted to a predominantly arboreal existence—only mouse-tailed dormice appear to live exclusively on the ground. The feet are well adapted to grasping on to trees. On the soles, they have cushioned pads for gripping, and the four toes on the front feet and five toes on the hind feet all have strong, curved claws. The hind feet can be turned backwards, like those of a squirrel, enabling the animal to hang head-first from a branch to feed on the lowest fruit, and to run down stems with some dexterity.

The fur is generally soft and thick and in most species, the tail is bushy and long. Its primary function appears to be in assisting with balance, since it is not prehensile. Dormice will readily shed their tails to escape from predators. Ground-dwelling mouse-tailed dormice have thin, naked tails.

Adaptations for a largely nocturnal existence usually include large eyes, sensitive vibrissae, and an acute sense of hearing; the rounded ears are not, however, especially large.

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