South African ground squirrel

Xerus inauris

TAXONOMY

Xerus inauris Zimmermann, 1780, 100 mi (160 km) north of Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Seven subspecies.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Cape ground squirrel; French: Ecureuil foisseur de cap; German: Kap-erdhornchen.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

11-15 in (28-38 cm); 1.1-2.4 lb (500-1,100 g). Tawny-yellow with a lateral white stripe on either side. Tail hairs have two dark bands.

DISTRIBUTION

Range includes Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

HABITAT

Open arid country with compacted sandy areas for digging communal burrows.

BEHAVIOR

South African ground squirrels do not hibernate. They are highly social, living in kin groups of one to three adult females and usually two to three, but up to nine male and/or female subadults. This species is interesting in that mature males form their own groups, referred to as bands, which can include up to 19 individuals. These bands roam over a home range that is shared with several groups. This is an unusual behavior in mammals because of typical male competition for females. Survival advantages of group living for detection and deterrence of predators outweigh the disadvantages to breeding opportunities from competition.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Diet of grasses, shrubs, roots, bulbs, seeds, and fruit. Also eats insects.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Breeding is asynchronous and can occur at any time of the year although fewer litters appear above ground from July through October. Gestation is 48 days and juveniles are weaned 52 days later. Litter sizes at emergence from the natal burrow range from one to three pups. Females become reproductively mature at age of ten months. Males become reproductive mature earlier at about 8 months. Females are capable of breeding several times during the year but fewer than 10% actually wean more than one litter during a year.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS None known. ♦

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