Behavior

Gundis do not excavate burrows but live in natural rock crevices or caves. They are gregarious, living in colonies that vary in density from the mzab gundi's 0.12 per acre (0.3 per ha) to over 40 per acre (100 per ha) for Speke's pectinator. Density is related to food supply and the nature of the terrain. Colony size varies from 16,150-21,500 sq ft (1,5002,000 sq m) in Speke's pectinator to 26,900 sq ft (2,500 sq m) in the desert gundi.

Within colonies there are family territories occupied by a pair and their juveniles or by several females and offspring.

Gundis do not make nests, and shelters are often temporary. Permanent shelters may be occupied for many years. Characteristically, a shelter retains the day's heat through the cold night and provides cool conditions in the heat of the day.

The large eyes might suggest nocturnal habits, but gundis are diurnal, moving rapidly from bright sunlight to deep shade in rock crevices. They often move slowly but can run quickly, with the belly almost touching the ground. They are shy and wary, and rely mainly on speed and agility to squeeze into crevices and holes to escape from predators. Rough friction pads on the soles of the feet assist in climbing on rocks, and gundis can ascent almost vertical surfaces, keeping the body pressed close to the rock face. All gundis thump with their hind feet when alarmed. Their flat ears allow them good all-round hearing and the hearing is acute.

When the weather is cold, wet, or windy, activity is restricted and the animals may not emerge at all. In winter, gundis pile on top of one another for warmth, with juveniles shielded by their mother or draped across the back of her neck. Gundis are not known to hibernate or estivate.

Gundis normally emerge at first light and remain active for up to five hours. Activity declines during the hot part of the day but increases again in the 2-4 hours before dusk.

The three species with fan-like tails use the tail for balance, while in Speke's pectinator the tail is also used in social displays.

Grooming is a common activity. The combs on the hind feet are used for grooming and scratching, and the rapid circular scratch of the rump with a hind foot is characteristic of gundis. The fur does not repel water and in wet weather it sticks together in tufts. The animals take particular care to ensure that the fur remains loose.

Vocalizations are varied, and each species has its own repertoire. Calls vary from the infrequent chirp of the mzab gundi to the relatively complex chirps, whistles, and chuckles of Speke's pectinator. In their habitat their low-pitched calls carry well. Short, sharp calls warn of predatory birds and cause all nearby gundis to take cover. Longer calls warn of ground predators and inform the predator it has been spotted. The felou gundi's harsh "chee" call continues as long as the predator remains in the vicinity.

Long complex chirps or whistles serve for recognition or greeting. The two Ctenodactylus species, whose ranges overlap, have very different calls that aid in species recognition: the North African gundi chirps, the desert gundi whistles.

Gundis "play possum," exhibiting an immobile, trancelike state when threatened by a predator such as a snake, lizard, fox, jackal, or cat, most of which hunt by sight. The gundi lies flat and completely immobile, and may stop breathing for up to a minute. Gundis do not bite when handled.

For small desert mammals, gundis are unusually active in the daytime. In the early morning they stretch out flat on their stomachs to sunbathe until the temperature rises above 20°C (68°F), when they forage. After feeding, they again flatten themselves on the warm rocks to keep their bodies warm and to speed digestion: a way of making the best use of scarce food. When the temperature reaches 32°C (90°F) the gundis take shelter under rocks and do not emerge until the temperature drops in the afternoon. When long foraging expeditions are necessary, gundis alternate feeding in the sun with cooling off in the shade. In extreme drought, gundis eat at dawn when plants contain the most moisture.

Gundis have communal dunghills, some of which may have been in use for many years, and finding such a latrine may be the easiest way to ascertain the animals' presence in an area.

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