Palestine mole rat

Nannospalax ehrenbergi

SUBFAMILY

Spalacinae

TAXONOMY

Nannospalax ehrenbergi (Nehring, 1898), Jaffa, Israel.

OTHER COMMON NAMES English: Blind mole rat.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 5.9-10.6 in (150-270 mm); there is no external tail. Characterized by the lack of external openings for the eyes and ears. Small eyes are present below the skin and the ears are reduced to a small ridge. There are sets of whiskers along the face to aid in tactile sensation and it is thought that their sense of hearing is acute. They are robustly built, with a large head, powerful limbs, and a streamlined body. Their incisors are very large and project beyond the lips when the mouth is closed. The claws are small.

DISTRIBUTION

Found along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea from Libya, through Egypt, Palestine, and Syria.

HABITAT

Prefer to occupy areas with sandy or loamy soils and are found in a variety of habitats. They do not occur in desert areas. They spend most of their lives in their underground burrow systems, which are complex and made up of multiple foraging tunnels, nest chambers, storage areas, and latrines. Burrow depth is influenced by weather, with burrows occurring deeper in the hot, summer months. Burrow systems may also include mounds, which are found aboveground. In the center of the mounds are sleeping chambers.

BEHAVIOR

Solitary and active throughout the day. Burrow systems are generally occupied by single animals.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Eat the underground parts of plants, including roots, tubers, stems, and seeds that can be obtained from below ground. Food is stored in underground chambers.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Apparently use an unusual form of locating mates, whereby males and females produce vibrations by drumming the top of their head against burrow ceilings. During the mating season, females construct elaborate, aboveground breeding mounds made up of tunnels and multiple chambers. The central chamber is the nest chamber. Males construct mounds surrounding the breeding mound of a female. Mating occurs once yearly from November-March and young are born from January-April. Litter size is one to five young. These young are born naked and helpless, but develop quickly, leaving the nest at 4-6 weeks old. Maximum lifespan in the wild is 4.5 years.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not currently considered threatened, though, in general, they may be vulnerable to habitat modifications and persecution by humans.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Considered agricultural pests in some areas, but in other regions are not considered destructive. In Libya, it is believed that blindness results from touching a mole rat, so they are left unharmed. They have been instrumental in locating significant archeological sites by bringing buried items to the surface. ♦

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