Anatolian ground squirrel (Spermophilus xanthoprymnus)

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Anatolian ground squirrels in grass
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Anatolian ground squirrel fact file

Anatolian ground squirrel description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderRodentia
FamilySciuridae
GenusSermophilus (1)

A terrestrial, diurnal rodent (2), the Anatolian ground squirrel (Spermophilus xanthopyrmnus) is a relatively small mammal which spends much of its life in extensive burrow systems (3). It belongs to the genus Spermophilus, one of the most diverse and widely distributed genera of the Scuridae family (4), a group of species which includes squirrels, chipmunks, marmots and prairie dogs. Species in the genus Spermophilus are also commonly referred to as the ‘sousliks’ (5).

The Anatolian ground squirrel is an Old World ground squirrel with a range encompassing large parts of the Anatolian Peninsula, also called Asia Minor, hence this species’ alternative common name of the Asia Minor ground squirrel (6)

The Anatolian ground squirrel is light brown or reddish-brown with a yellowish tone on the upperparts, while the underside is typically yellow with grey and white speckling. In some Anatolian ground squirrels there may be a pronounced line running along the body which separates the flanks from the underside, although this is usually absent (4). The tail is a similar colour to the body and, as in other species of ground squirrel, is relatively short and furry (4) (5). The hairs of the tail are longer than those on the body (4).

The Anatolian ground squirrel has a white ring around the eyes and behind the ears. Its legs are fairly short (5), and the front feet are usually yellowish while the back feet are pale white (4). Like other ground squirrels in the genus Spermophilus, the Anatolian ground squirrel has large internal cheek pouches for carrying food (5)

Ground squirrels produce a considerable array of vocalisations, with the vocal repertoire of the Anatolian ground squirrel likely to include trills, squeaks, chirps and buzzes. In most other species of ground squirrel, shrill whistles are given in alarm, possibly against aerial predators, while chattering noises may be given in response to a terrestrial threat (5).

Also known as
Asia minor ground squirrel.
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Anatolian ground squirrel biology

The Anatolian ground squirrel inhabits an extensive underground network of burrows, which are constructed in flat or gently sloping areas of steppe, or less commonly in rocky areas on mountainsides. This species uses different types of burrows in summer and winter, with winter burrows typically being more complex than those used during the summer months (9)

The annual cycle of the Anatolian ground squirrel includes a long period of hibernation, followed by a frenzy of activity in the spring and summer during which feeding, mating and raising the young takes place (8). The Anatolian ground squirrel usually enters hibernation at the end of August, remaining in hibernation for between 21 and 100 days (1) (9). It emerges in February, with the adult male typically emerging earlier than the female (1) (8) (9)

The female Anatolian ground squirrel only gives birth once a year, to a litter of one to six young (1) (9). Mating begins soon after the female emerges from hibernation, with the gestation period lasting for 23 to 31 days (5). The young are fed on the female’s milk until they are weaned at four to six weeks old, after which they are able to leave the burrow (5) (8) (9). The young ground squirrels remain close to the burrow entrance for the first few days and do not tend to feed outside of the safety of the burrow, but after around a week they begin to venture further afield and will even begin to dig their own burrows (9). The Anatolian ground squirrel becomes sexually mature after around 11 months, following the first hibernation period (1) (8) (9).

During hibernation, ground squirrels may lose around 28 percent of their total body weight (8). As a result, the Anatolian ground squirrel forages frequently to gain enough weight during the summer to see it through the winter period (8). The diet of the Anatolian ground squirrel is fairly varied, consisting of seeds, nuts, grains, roots, bulbs, other vegetation and mushrooms. It also feeds on insects and other small invertebrates. Ground squirrels have also been known to occasionally feed on small vertebrates and even birds’ eggs (5).

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Anatolian ground squirrel range

The Anatolian ground squirrel is found throughout the geographic region of Anatolia, also known as Asia Minor, in the southern Caucasus. It occurs mainly in Turkey, but its range extends slightly into Armenia and northwest Iran (1). It may possibly occur in Azerbaijan and Palestine (5) (7) (8)

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Anatolian ground squirrel habitat

This species typically inhabits open steppe habitat with short vegetation. However, across its wide distribution the Anatolian ground squirrel is known to occur in a number of different habitats, from prairies to rocky mountain slopes and highland meadows (1) (4) (5) (9). It may also be found close to grain fields in agricultural areas (1).

The Anatolian ground squirrel is found from elevations of 800 to 2,900 metres (1) (9).

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Anatolian ground squirrel status

The Anatolian ground squirrel is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened

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Anatolian ground squirrel threats

The population of the Anatolian ground squirrel has declined by nearly 25 percent over the last 10 years, largely due to the loss of its habitat because of conversion for agriculture. Large scale agricultural expansion is therefore considered the main threat to the Anatolian ground squirrel, especially in central Anatolia (1).

The Anatolian ground squirrel is also considered an agricultural pest in large parts of Turkey and may be persecuted as a result (1) (9).

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Anatolian ground squirrel conservation

There are currently no known conservation measures specifically targeted at the Anatolian ground squirrel. However, it is known to occur in a number of protected areas, which may offer it some level of protection (1).

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Find out more

Find out more about the Anatolian ground squirrel:

  • Özkurt, S.O., Sözen, M., Yiğit, N., Kandemir, I., Çolak, R., Gharkheloo, M.M. and Çolak, E. (2007) Taxonomic status of the genus Spermophilus (Mammalia: Rodentia) in Turkey and Iran with description of a new species. Zootaxa, 1529: 1-15.

Find out more about ground squirrels and other mammals:

  • Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Diurnal
Active during the day.
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Gestation
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Hibernation
A winter survival strategy in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. While hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
Steppe
A vast grassland plain, characterised by few trees and low rainfall.
Vertebrates
Animals with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Yiğit, N., Çolak, E., Sözen, M. and Özkurt, S. (2000) A study on the hibernation of Spermophilus xanthoprymnus (Bennet, 1835) (Mammalia: Rodentia) in Turkey. Turkish Journal of Zoology, 24: 87-93.
  3. Gündüz, I., Jaarola, M., Tez, C., Yeniyurt, C., Polly, P.D. and Searle, J.B. (2007) Multigenic and morphometric differentiation of ground squirrels (Spermophilus, Scuiridae, Rodentia) in Turkey, with a description of a new species. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 43: 916–935.
  4. Özkurt, S.O., Sözen, M., Yiğit, N., Kandemir, I., Çolak, R., Gharkheloo, M.M. and Çolak, E. (2007) Taxonomic status of the genus Spermophilus (Mammalia: Rodentia) in Turkey and Iran with description of a new species. Zootaxa, 1529: 1-15.
  5. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  6. Gür, H. and Gür, M.K. (2010) Anatolian ground squirrels (Spermophilus xanthoprymnus): Hibernation and geographic variation of body size in a species of old world ground squirrels. Hacettepe Journal of Biology and Chemistry, 38(3): 247-253.
  7. Wilson, D.E. and Reeder, D.M. (2005) Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. Third Edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Available at:
    http://www.bucknell.edu/MSW3/
  8. Gür, H. and Gür, M.K. (2005) Annual cycle of activity, reproduction, and body mass of Anatolian ground squirrels (Spermophilus xanthoprymnus) in Turkey. Journal of Mammology, 86(1): 7-14.
  9. Özkurt, S.O., Yiğit, N., Çolak, E., Sözen, M. and Gharkheloo, M.M. (2005) Observations on the ecology, reproduction and behavior of Spermophilus Bennett, 1835 (Mammalia: Rodentia) in Turkey. Turkish Journal of Zoology, 29: 91-99.
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Image credit

Anatolian ground squirrels in grass  
Anatolian ground squirrels in grass

© Ogun Caglayan Turkay

Ogun Caglayan Turkay
ogunturkay@gmail.com
http://www.ogunturkay.com

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