Spermophilus citellusEuropean ground squirrel

Geographic Range

Southeast Germany; Czech Republic; Slovakia; Southwest Poland through Southeast Europe to European Turkey; Moldova; Ukraine

Habitat

European sousliks inhabit open landscapes. They prefer to live in prairies and steppes, rocky country, open woodlands, abandoned farms, and desert mountain ranges (Nowak, 1991). They avoid wet areas, the banks of permanent waters, or any type of wet areas created by accumulated water. (Parker, 1990). They are not found in areas with a dense forest cover (Nowak, 1991).

Physical Description

The European souslik has a slender but strong body. The legs are relatively short; the forelegs and hind legs are about the same length (Parker, 1990). The back is yellow-gray and densily covered by whitish-yellow speckles or dots. The dots disappear on the sides of the body, and the belly is yellow. The chin and the throat are white. The European souslik has short and smooth body hair which becomes straighter and stiffer in winter (Parker, 1990). The external ears of the European souslik are flat. The forehead is broad and flat, causing the large eyes to be far apart. The cheek pouches are rather small. The tail is short, measuring about 3.8-7.4cm, and is coated with hair (Parker, 1990).

  • Average mass
    217 g
    7.65 oz
    AnAge
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    1.272 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

The gestation period of the European souslik is 25-26 days. European sousliks mate only once a year, producing 2-9 youngs per birth. The offspring are born naked; the eyes and the ears are still closed. The weaning period is about 30 days, and the males hardly participate in the weaning of a litter. European sousliks reach sexual maturity in 1 year (Parker, 1990).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
    6
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    27 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    314 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    314 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    6.7 years
    AnAge

Behavior

European sousliks are active during the day. They dig and live in lodges of two types. One is the permanent den, in which they spend nights or the entire winter. The other is a temporary, protective hole which serves as a refuge or for a short rest (Parker, 1990). European sousliks hibernate. Before hibernating, they clog up the entrance to the lodge with soil and build a tunnel that extends to near the surface and contains a chamber, but no nesting material. After waking up from hibernation, sousliks either open up the clogged tunnel or dig themselves out from the side tunnel directly to the surface (Parker, 1990). The old males start to hibernate in the first half of August while the adult females continue to remain outside until the first half of September. European souslik are rarely seen outdoors as late as November (Parker, 1990).

European sousliks bring food into the lodge for consumption, and they provide food for the young. However, they never store any supplies for the winter (Parker, 1990).

European sousliks are solitary in their burrows; however, they are colonial in the sense that they build their burrows close together. This helps in protecting them from predators (Caspers, 1997).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The European souslik feeds primarily on vegetation, nuts, seeds, and grains; however, individuals may also consume small invertebrates, small vertebrates, and birds'eggs (Emanoil, 1994; Nowak, 1991).

Conservation Status

The European souslik has been declining rapidly in Europe because of the destruction of habitat through intensification of agriculture and large-scale reallotment of land. The species may now be extinct in some area. European sousliks are protected in Hungary and Poland. However, throughout this range, edge populations are steadily decreasing (Emanoil, 1994). Although European sousliks are disappearing in Europe, they are still common in other countries (Parker, 1990).

Other Comments

The European souslik is also known as plain squirrel because its inconspicuous coloration makes its silhouette blend with the surroundings. Spermophilus citellus is sometimes known as Citellus citellus.

Contributors

Helen Yu (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

References

Caspers, T. 1997. http://www.hermes.de/westernimprints/data/wildlife/facts/groundsquirrelfacts.html.

Emanoil, M. 1994. Encyclopedia of Endangered Species. Gale Research Inc., Detroit.

Newey, S. 1995. http://www.bangor.ac.uk/~bss035/comett/wwscot.htm.

Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Fifth Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore & London.

Parker, S. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New York.