Graphiurus platyopsrock dormouse

Geographic Range

Rock dormice, or the flat-headed African dormice, are native to the Ethiopian region which encompasses a majority of Southeastern Africa. Graphiurus platyops are mostly found within south-eastern Africa, within the latitudes 10°S and 30°S and longitudes 25°E and 35°E. They are present in the following countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa. (Kingdon, 2013; Skinner and Chimimba, 2005)


During daylight hours, rock dormice are mainly found in rocky hillsides and on small hills, where they often take shelter under rocks and within their crevices. They like to find cracks in rock kopjes, along with other types of rock shelters, which are small hills made up of rocks and grass. During the night, rock dormice can usually be seen in the open grasslands foraging for food. Though rock dormice are abundant near rocky habitats, there have been a few instances where individuals were found in scrub thickets, hollowed tree branches and caves. (Kingdon, 2013; Skinner and Chimimba, 2005; Webb and Skinner, 1995)

  • Other Habitat Features
  • caves
  • Range elevation
    609 (low) m
    1998.03 (low) ft

Physical Description

Rock dormice are medium-sized, with a mean length of 105 mm and a mean weight of 23 g. The dorsal fur coloration is grey, or brownish-grey, and the ventral fur is a white or cream color. Overall, the fur is sleek and rather long (rump hairs 10 mm, guard hairs - outer layer of coat - up to 13 mm). Other features of rock dormice include large eyes, large, rounded, brown ears and a fairly short tail. The rock dormice are distinguishable from their relatives, the small-eared dormice (Graphiurus microtis), by their larger size and more brownish colored coat. (Kingdon, 2013; Skinner and Chimimba, 2005; Webb and Skinner, 1995)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    27 (mean) g
  • Average length
    105 (mean) mm


There is limited information related to specific mating systems for rock dormouse, however there have been studies done on a close relative, the woodland dormouse, which reveal the mating systems of these dormice. A study conducted by Madikiza and Do Linh San (2020), showed that woodland dormice would use nesting boxes, communally for mating and breeding. In captivity, male dormice show strong signs of territoriality and will possibly kill and eat another invading male (Webb and Skinner, 1995). (Madikiza and Do Linh San, 2020; Webb and Skinner, 1995)

Currently there is little information on the breeding behavior of rock dormice, but there is information on the closely related woodland dormouse (Graphiurus murinus). For G. murinus, breeding can occur throughout the year, but most breeding occurs during the spring and summer (October to February). Females can have up to two litters of pups per year, with an average of 3 to 4 pups per litter, and have a gestation time of approximately 24 days. Newborn G. murinus are independent and weaned around 5 to 6 weeks. About a year after the pupa are born, the dormice are sexually mature. (Do Linh San, et al., 2019; Madikiza and Do Linh San, 2020; Webb and Skinner, 1995)

  • Breeding interval
    Rock dormice breed twice within the breeding season.
  • Breeding season
    Mating usually can occur from October to February.
  • Range number of offspring
    3 to 6
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    24 days
  • Average time to independence
    5-6 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Limited information has been reported on parental investment for rock dormice but based on information of the close relative, woodland dormice, it is known that mothers remain near the nest and care for pups when they are first born. The mothers will nurse, groom and protect the pups until they have reached independence. The fathers are not brought up within the literature, and it can be inferred that the father would leave the pups with the mother. This would be due to the fact that mammal fathers cannot contribute much to the pups development, or at least not as much as the mother can. (Lodel, 2011; Madikiza and Do Linh San, 2020; Webb and Skinner, 1995)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Currently, there is no information on the lifespan of rock dormice, however, members of their family (Gliridae) live an average of 5 years in the wild. A close relative of Graphiurus platyops, G. murinus, can live up to 5 to 6 years in the wild and an average of 5.9 years in captivity. (Lodel, 2011; Tanabe, 2014)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 to 6 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    5.9 years


Rock dormice are aggressive, nocturnal, terricolous mammals that shelter in rocks. If intruders do not back off after the warning calls from the rock dormouse, the dormouse would fight off the intruders. Rock dormice are most active during the night, sometimes early morning, and like to find shelter within the crevices of rocks to escape the heat of the day. They are said to be solitary, spending most of their time alone, except during mating season where there are sometimes groups of dormice (based on information of the closely related Graphiurus murinus). (Kingdon, 2013; Skinner and Chimimba, 2005)

Home Range

African dormice (Graphiurus species) as a whole have a relatively large home range, with males having a larger range than females. A close relative to rock dormice, spectacled dormice (G. ocularis), have home ranges of 13.9 hectares (34 acres) and 8.5 hectares (21 acres) for males and females, respectively. The difference in home ranges between the female and male may be due to males looking for more mates. For females, this could be due to trying to be energy sufficient and not waste too much energy looking for food. Females want to be energy sufficient because if they need to reproduce, they need to save as much energy as possible to have a healthy offspring. (Hensbergen and Channing, 1989; Skinner and Chimimba, 2005)

Communication and Perception

Rock dormice communicate via visualization, vocalization and scent. Rock dormice tend to show signs of major aggression towards intruders, which consist of a mix of visual and vocalized signals. Dormice will give off a warning call to intruders through soft, constant, short, low-pitched notes. Another sign of aggression is that the dormice will rapidly whip their tails and spit. If the intruder persist, rock dormice will fight. Based on results from an observational study, it has been suggested that rock dormice leave scent trails (Kingdon, 2013). During the study a dormouse had went into an unbaited tunnel trap, after the first individual entered it, others had seemed to follow the first individual into the tunnel. This observation suggested that rock dormice use scent trails. (Kingdon, 2013; Skinner and Chimimba, 2005)

Food Habits

Rock dormice are nocturnal omnivores and are known to consume seeds, insects and green vegetation (Kingdon, 2013), all of which have been found in their stomachs. (Kingdon, 2013; Skinner and Chimimba, 2005; Webb and Skinner, 1995)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


There is limited research on the predators of rock dormice, however, a close relative that also inhabits southern eastern Africa, woodland dormice (Graphiurus murinus) has a documented predator, the Mackinder's eagle owl (Bubo capensis mackinderi). Since this species cooccurs, and lives in generally the same location with rock dormice, it is likely that the owl is a predator of rock dormice. Since rock dormice are nocturnal, this limits the potential for predation. During the day the dormice use camouflage by settling in rock crevices. (Kingdon, 2013; Kock, et al., 2002)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Rock dormice contribute to controlling the insect populations in the surrounding areas because they are a substantial part of their diet. Rock dormice also disperse seeds via ingestion and egestion. (Kingdon, 2013)

The relationships rock dormice have with other animals are examples of parasitism and predation. Rock dormice have a parasitic flea in the chimaeropsyllid family, where the flea benefits from the dormouse (host), but the dormouse is being negatively affected. The negative effects include blood lost, skin irritation and damage and transmission of pathogens. The Mackinder's eagle owl is likely a predator of rock dormice. (Kingdon, 2013; Kock, et al., 2002; Lipatova, et al., 2015)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Chimaeropsyllid flea (Chiatopsylla nama)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Rock dormice do not have specific roles in the daily lives of humans; however, they could control the pest insect populations through predation. Species in the dormouse family (Gliridae), containing rock dormice, have been a source of food for people in Europe since the Roman Ages and were considered a delicacy. (Kingdon, 2013)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Species in the genus Graphiurus, are possible hosts of the monkeypox virus (Orthopoxviridae), a virus that resembles smallpox. This virus caused an outbreak in 2003 within the U.S. after a shipment of animals came from Africa. One out of the six species shipped was a species in the genus Graphiurus. The exact species that brought the virus to the U.S. is unknown, and raises the chances that rock dormice (Graphiurus platyops) are a possible host. (Holden and Levine, 2009)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease

Conservation Status

Based on the IUCN Red List, rock dormice are of least concern, however, there is little information known on their true populations and abundance, so it may be more accurate to label the species as data deficient. ("IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2016; Kingdon, 2013)


Caroline Fagan (author), Colorado State University, Nathan Dorff (editor), Colorado State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


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Madikiza, Z., E. Do Linh San. 2020. Patterns of nest box sharing in woodland dormice (Graphurus murinus): Evidence for intra-sexual tolerance and communal nesting. Science Direct, 177: 104141. Accessed February 12, 2021 at

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