Physical characteristics

Gundis are small, stocky rodents with short, furry tails and short legs. They resemble guinea pigs (Cavia) in external appearance. Females are on average larger than males.

The head is large and blunt, the eyes large and the vibris-sae long. The ears are short and rounded, and in some species have a protective fringe of hairs around their inner margin. In the mzab gundi (Massoutiera mzabi) the ears are flattened against the head and do not move.

The hind feet are longer than the forefeet. Each foot has four digits and on the hind feet the two inner digits have stiff bristles that form a comb: the family name translates as "comb-fingered." All digits have small, sharp claws. The two Ctenodactylus species have very small wispy tails but the other three species have longer, fan-like tails.

The fur is soft, silky, and dense. In Speke's pectinator (Pectinator spekei) the skin is thin and easily torn. Crouched on a rock with the wind blowing through their fur, gundis look like powder puffs. The cuticular scales on the hairs are unusual, being narrow and petal-like.

Gundis vary in color from grayish or buff to chestnut or yellowish red, with paler (usually whitish) underparts. The color of each species matches the rocks in which it occurs.

The skull is flattened, with broad frontals and relatively well-developed supraorbital ridges. The jugals have horizontal and vertical branches, and the vertical reaches the enlarged lacrimal. The bullae and mastoids are inflated, and the skull appears to broaden posteriorly. The dental formula is i 1/1, c0/0, pm1/1 or 2/2, m3/3 = 20 or 24. The cheek teeth are flat-surfaced and ever-growing. Gundis have a flexible ribcage that allows them to squeeze into crevices.

The family is unusual in that females have a cervical pair of mammae in addition to the pair placed laterally on the anterior thorax.

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