European ground squirrel

Spermophilus citellus

TAXONOMY

Mus citellus (Linnaeus, 1766), Wagram Niederosterrich, Austria. Nine subspecies.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: European souslik; French: Souslik d'Europe, souslik tacheté; German: Europäischer Ziesel, Perlziesel; Spanish: Ardilla terrestre, suslik europeo.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

8.4-12.0 in (21.4-30.4 cm), 6.3-12.3 oz (180-350 g). Yellow-gray with small dense cream-colored spots on back. Yellow underneath.

DISTRIBUTION

Central southeast Germany to western Ukraine. HABITAT

Steppe and open woodland.

BEHAVIOR

A relatively asocial and non-territorial species that lives in loosely structured populations. More than 60% of the population is female because of higher mortality of juvenile and yearling males during hibernation and dispersal. Hibernation begins in late August-September and ends late March-April.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Primarily grasses and other herbs.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

A polygynous mating system where males scramble for access to females shortly after the females emerge from hibernation. Females will mate with only one male during the annual 3- to 4-week breeding period. Gestation is 25 days. Litter size at emergence is 4-11. Lactation is approximately 30 days. Sexual maturity is obtained after the first hibernation. All adult males

and 78-90% of yearling males are capable of reproducing during the breeding season. More than 90% of yearling and adult females breed, although only about a third successfully wean their litter.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Assessed as Vulnerable in 1996 by the IUCN. Major threat is the loss of habitat from agricultural practices.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Considered an agricultural pest during second half of twentieth century. ♦

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