Ground-squirrels (Spermophilus)

Source of the photo: 
http://hu.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=F%C3%A1jl:Europ%C3%A4ischer_Ziesel_in_Hockstellung.jpg&filetimestamp=20050528232959
Author of the description: 
Kozma Kinga
Squirrels (Spermophilus)

Scientific classification:

Kingdom: Animalia

 Phylum: Chordata

 Subphylum: Vertebrata

 Class: Mammalia

 Order: Rodentia

 Family: Sciuridae

 Tribe: Marmotini

 Genus: Spermophilus

As many, in some cases really different species belongs to the genus ground squirrels, we can divide the original genus in to 6 sub-genus which are the following:

Spermophilus, Ictidomys, Poliocitellus, Otospermophilus, Xerospermophilus, Callospermophilus.

Range and Habitat:

The 41 species which belongs to the genus of ground squirrel can be found on the north part of the Earth almost everywhere, From Southeast Europe till Siberia, from Mexico till Alaska. During the time of the ice age most of the species were present in Europe but since their natural habitat is continuously decreasing they are gradually disappearing from the area. Nowadays only two species left in Europe Spermophilus citellus and Spermophilus suslicus.

The ground squirrels like areas covered by shorter grass. But the number of these places is radically decreased thanks to the constructions and forestations. Those lands which stand out of crop are also dangerous for these small animals as they are simply too short to be able to look around in the tall grasses and they cannot notice the predators in time. They live together in colonies and prepare tunnels underground. Their appearance is indicated by the 4-5 cm diameter holes in the ground. They dug two kinds of holes, one type is for winters and nights, the other is for daily short term residence.

Morphology, build-up:

Length is approximately 22−40 cm, depends on the exact kind. They have slim body with tiny ears and about 7 cm long tail. Their weight is also dependent on the race but usually 700−800 gram. The front limbs are more underdeveloped than the back limbs. They are hardly mistaken with other mammals.

Nourishment:

Ground squirrels prefer to eat vegetables, field crops, seeds, sometimes bird eggs. They collect seeds and crops in their mouth and store them in their underground homes, called „burrows” and with this they cause serious damage for the farms.

Customs, reproduction:

These animals live according to a defined yearly routine. When spring starts first the bigger and taller male animals emerge from hibernation. Their task is to fight for the best areas and the female leave their holes only after that. After they breed the male don’t care anymore about the territory or the protection of the family, the main aim became to get enough food for the next winter. The female make nest in the ground or in rock piles, The gestation lasts almost a month, approximately 22−23 days, usually one litter per year with about 2−17 young per litter. The young leave the nest after a month and it happens usually in June. The grown up female can collect enough fat for the winter until September, for the young it takes more time, sometimes till end of October. After that, they also move underground away from the cold and frost. During hibernation their body temperature goes down till the earth temperature, which on that level never reaches the freezing point.

Role in the ecosystem, protection:

Until the middle of the 20th century the ground squirrely were considered to be a pest, so they were hunted, and while there are many on the fields, people often ate their meat and used their fur. Because of these reasons their population decreased heavily. In Hungary the ground squirrel became a protected race in 1982, with a natural value of 10 000 Ft. In our fauna they have special importance, as they are the nutriment of many protected and rare species, as for example the Falco Cherrug or Aquila Heliaca. Plus thanks to their underground tunnels they make living space for many other animals like the green toad.

Their role in the ground:

Ground squirrels prefer loose soil as it is easier to dig in it, but it is also important the ground to keep the shape of the tunnel. For these reasons the best type of soil is the sandy humus soil. Also it’s better if the groundwater is rather at a low level with low capillarity. If they can’t find anything like that they can live in other soils as well, if it’s not too rocky or wet. They also change the texture of the soil as because of their work the quantity of filtered water can increase by 20%.

Source of description: 

Ground Squirrels: http://library.thinkquest.org/TQ0312800/squirrel.htm

13-lined ground squirrel: http://icwdm.org/handbook/rodents