Egyptian spiny mouse

Acomys cahirinus

TAXONOMY

Mus cahirinus (Desmarest, 1819), Cairo, Egypt. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Spiny mouse; French: Rats épineux; German: Stachelmause; Spanish: Raton espinoso.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Body length 2.7-6.7 in (7-17 cm); tail 1.9-4.7 in (5-12 cm); weight 1-2.4 oz (30-70 g). The defining feature is the gray-brown to sandy spiny hairs covering its back. The large-eared animal has a gray to white belly and a scaly, hairless tail.

DISTRIBUTION

Distributed through Africa and the Middle East. The Egyptian spiny mouse is widely distributed, but it was first discovered in Egypt.

HABITAT

Live in arid and semi-arid environments like deserts and savannahs. They live in and around rocks and can be found in burrows, which they presumably do not dig themselves, and have been found in trees even though they are terrestrial. They tend to avoid altitudes above 4,920 ft (1,500 m), and in some places, particularly in Egypt, the animals live with and off of humans.

BEHAVIOR

Different spiny mice species (there are eight) feed at different times and thus avoid competing with each other over the amount of insects they eat. Still, they are also known to be relatively social, and live in small groups with a dominant male who, when challenged, will fight. The animals are excellent jumpers and fairly active. Humans do keep them as pets.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Takes arthropods; certain species forage at different times in order to reduce interspecies competition. However, the animals also feed on snails as well as plant materials, including grains and grasses. Some species have begun to live in close proximity to humans, and are known to feed on grains and other foods that have been stored away.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Build a rudimentary nest in which to give birth. The gestation period is 5-6 weeks, or about two weeks longer than the mouse norm, and small litters of 1-5 young are born. They are capable of breeding again almost immediately after birth, and they have been known to string together over 12 litters in succession. What sets the spiny mouse apart from other mice is that the young are well developed at birth. They are born with hair that, although thin, is enough to allow the pups to ther-moregulate, which means the mother does not need to give them much body warmth. Further, their eyes are either open at birth or within a day or two of birth. By day three, the young are exploring. Due to the social nature of the creatures, females help each other during the birthing process. In function, all the females in a group help raise the young.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened, although Acomys cilicicus is listed as Critically Endangered, while Acomys minous is Vulnerable.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Although the animals are known to spread typhus, they have recently received significant attention as a worthwhile pet. Apparently, people enjoy keeping the animals because their urine is relatively devoid of odor, and they are docile. The spiny mouse pet trade appeared in the mid 1980s. ♦

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