Gray climbing mouse

Dendromus melanotis

SUBFAMILY

Dendromurinae

TAXONOMY

Dendromus melanotis Smith, 1834, near Port Natal, South Africa. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: African climbing mouse, gerbil mouse, fat mouse, forest mouse.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 1.9-3.9 in (50-100 mm); tail 2.5-5.1 in (65-132 mm); weight 0.2-0.7 oz (5-21 g). They have three digits on their forefeet, a characteristic unique to the genus; the rear feet have the normal number of digits. Their long,

prehensile tails are slightly bicolored, darker on the upper surface. The dorsal fur is soft and gray, with a darker stripe running down their midline, their underparts are lighter. The eyes are very large and often have darker fur surrounding them, making them look as if they have spectacles. Upper incisors are grooved.

DISTRIBUTION

Widely distributed in suitable habitats in Central Africa, from Guinea in the west to Ethiopia in the east and as far south as South Africa. Some other Dendromus species have very restricted ranges.

HABITAT

In general, found in a wide variety of habitats, from arid grasslands to dense, moist forests. D. melanotis is found mainly in dry, open grasslands, often in sparse vegetation on sandy soils, but also in swampy areas, coastal lowlands, low velds, moist upland, and montane areas. They make simple burrows underground, consisting of entrance and exit tunnels and a grass-lined nest chamber. Other Dendromus species build globular nests aboveground. Several Dendromus species, which occupy similar habitats, may build their burrows underground to escape the seasonal fires that are typical of the grasslands in which they live.

BEHAVIOR

There is variation in the degree of sociality among Dendromus species, but they are solitary and quite territorial. They are active at night and use their tails for climbing.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Omnivorous, eating seeds, fruits, insects, and small vertebrates.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

The time of breeding may vary regionally, based on wet season timing and food availability, but they breed only once yearly. Gestation lasts 23-27 days, after which 2-8 young are born in the mother's nest. The young are cared for by their mother until they are 30-35 days old, after which they leave the nest.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Population information on most Dendromus species is unavailable. They may be locally abundant in suitable habitats, but some are Vulnerable to human disturbances of their habitat. D. vernayi of Angola is considered Critically Endangered by IUCN.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

May act as disease vectors and agricultural pests of seed crops, but their impact on humans is likely to be minimal. ♦

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