Edible dormice are the largest of all dormice. Their name comes from the Romans, who ate them as a delicacy. These dormice have a generally squirrel-like body, with small ears, short legs, and large feet. Their fur is grey to greyish-brown in colour over most of the body, while the underparts and the inner surface of legs are white to pale buff. Unlike most other dormice, Edible dormice have no dark markings on the face, aside from faint rings around the eyes. Their tail is long and bushy, with fur slightly darker than that on the body. Front feet have four digits and their hind feet have five. The soles of their feet are naked.
Edible dormice are found throughout much of mainland western Europe through northern Turkey to the Caucasus, northern Iran and Turkmenistan. They are also found on a number of Mediterranean islands, including Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, and Crete. They are rather more sparsely distributed through central Europe and the Balkans. Edible dormice inhabit deciduous forests dominated by oak and beech. They prefer dense forests with rocky cliffs and caves, but may be found in maquis vegetation, orchards, and urban margins. They can also be found in gardens and orchards, and often enter buildings.
Edible dormice are nocturnal and spend the day in nests taken from birds, or located in hollow trees. They are good climbers, and spend most of their time in the trees, although they are relatively poor jumpers. They generally stay in the forest and avoid open areas. Edible dormice are not social animals, although small groups of closely related adults have occasionally been reported. Many females form communal nesting areas where they care for their young together. Edible dormice are active during a six-month period and go into hibernation from October to May, depending on local climatic conditions. They prepare a den in soft soil or hidden in a cave, and rely on fat reserves to survive through the winter. Edible dormice communicate partly by making various squeaks or snuffling sounds, and partly by scent. They leave scent trails from scent glands on their feet, as well as glands at the top of their tails.
Edible dormice are primarily herbivorous, feeding mainly on berries, apples, and nuts. However, they are adaptable, and also eat bark, leaves, flowers, invertebrates, and even eggs. Edible dormice also consume large numbers of beech tree seeds.
Edible dormice are polygynous breeders. Males are not territorial and may visit the territories of several nearby females to mate, becoming aggressive to any other males they encounter. The male attracts a female by squeaking and then makes a circular courtship dance. The breeding season occurs in late June to mid-August, but both male and female dormice do not produce every year. Gestation lasts 20-31 days, and results in the birth of up to 11 young, although 4-5 are more typical. They develop their fur by 16 days and open their eyes after around 3 weeks. Young begin to leave the nest after around 30 days and are reproductively mature by the time they complete their second hibernation.
One of the main threats to Edible dormice is hunting. In some parts of their range (Slovenia, Croatia, Italy), there is a tradition of hunting this species. In the past, they were hunted for meat, fat, and skins. In Italy, Edible dormice are protected, but still sometimes are hunted illegally. In northeastern Europe, they suffer from habitat destruction through the cutting of oak forests.
The IUCN Red List and other sources do not provide the Edible dormouse total population size. Currently. this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.