Speckled ground squirrel - description, habitat, lifestyle

Speckled ground squirrels are small ground rodents with an elongated body and a short tail. In size and shape, this animal is similar to a squirrel, but differs from it in coat color, smaller ears and a shorter tail. It is an endemic species that is common in Eastern Europe. These animals are found in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, to a small extent in Belarus and in the southeast of Poland.

Speckled ground squirrel


The speckled ground squirrel is a medium-sized rodent (178-247 mm), similar to a squirrel. It differs from it by the color of the fur, the length of the tail and ears. The tail, covered with stiff hair, has a length of 2.5-5.6 cm. The ears are very short, almost completely hidden in the hair of the head. The tips of the hairline are painted in light color. The coat on the chest is grayish brownish or grayish yellow. The color of mature gophers after molting becomes brighter than that of young individuals. The eyes are large, dark, with yellowish pupils. The front legs have four fingers, on them are flat, long and strong claws that help to dig holes. On the hind legs of rodents, 5 fingers.

Depending on the season, the body weight of an adult gopher can vary from 170 to 260 g, and in exceptional cases even up to 490 g. Body weight increases from spring to autumn, when the gophers lie in hibernation. During winter sleep, the gopher's body draws energy from previously accumulated fat reserves, so body weight slowly drops until spring. Adult males are usually larger than females.


The range of speckled ground squirrels is in Eastern Europe. Their habitat extends east from the southeastern part of Poland to the Volga River in central Russia. Speckled ground squirrels are also common in most regions of Ukraine and Moldova. Small fragmented populations are present in the eastern and western parts of Belarus.

Mottled ground squirrels can occupy many habitats throughout the Palearctic Range. Their typical habitat is steppe areas or steppe meadows. They also prefer places where grasslands and open areas with low vegetation are usually found.


During the breeding season, immediately after the females come out of hibernation, the males begin to demonstrate their exclusivity to attract them. Males usually mate with several females, raise cubs in the community. Gophers in these communities live very densely, which leads to closely related crosses.

Speckled ground squirrels breed once a year. Their breeding season lasts 2 weeks. Due to climatic conditions, they usually have low breeding rates and low fertility rates. In late April and early May, cubs are born. They spend one month in a hole without leaving it. The gopher's gestation period lasts about 27 days, and the litter size averages 6 cubs.

Speckled ground squirrels give birth to litter in early spring. This happens underground, providing animals with protection from the elements and predators. It is the females, as a rule, who take care of litters and protect them. After the cubs are a little older, they begin to leave the hole, inspecting the terrain to get used to and adapt. Adult individuals watch immature ground squirrels, and when predators are nearby, animals make characteristic sounds, warning the community that the danger is nearby, so you need to hide in holes.

Life span

Speckled ground squirrel
The average life span of speckled ground squirrels is 6 years. Immature individuals are more vulnerable and exhibit less survival. The mortality rate of immature ground squirrels is 73%; in adults, it ranges from 58%.


Speckled ground squirrel is a diurnal species that winters from October to April. It is active in the morning, when the sun heats the earth a little and spends time outside the lair until the day heat comes. Gophers can also leave the hole in the afternoon, but at the end of the day they come back.

Speckled ground squirrels are fossorial (prone to digging) mammals. They spend most of their time on their hind legs, exploring the surroundings in search of predators. Communication plays a vital role in the survival of these animals. They usually occupy open pasture plots, as this helps them prevent predator attacks. In case of danger, they can use various sound signals. But they use vocalization not only for these purposes. They can make sounds during mating games to attract females.

Gophers dig vertical and horizontal burrows. Vertical are structures that act as inconsistent openings, while horizontal holes are used for the birth and rearing of offspring.

Speckled ground squirrels live in large colonies, from a pair of individuals to 300 individuals per hectare. Most families are compact, usually habitats extend from 2 to 28 hectares. Colonies are usually located within 5-14 kilometers of each other.


In winter, hibernate. The intensity of their life at this moment is significantly reduced. Metabolic processes in the body slow down, body temperature drops to 2.8 ° C, the heart rate decreases from 300 to 4-7 contractions per minute, and lung activity drops even to 1 breath per minute. The kidneys and other internal organs also slow down - motor activity decreases.

Spermophilus suslicus

During hibernation, the gopher curls, hiding its head and legs under the body. The animal sleeps for 6 months, rarely wakes up. The mortality of gophers in the winter is quite high. The most common reason for this is the extremely harsh winter. When the ambient temperature is too high, the animal wakes up too often, which leads to a significant reduction in adipose tissue and, consequently, to a rapid decrease in the energy reserves of the body, so not all individuals survive until spring.


Communication through vocalization plays a key role in the daily survival of speckled ground squirrels. They communicate through roll call with characteristic sounds that help warn the colony of any potential predators. In some cases, their sound treatment may be intended for specific individuals. For example, females may have individual sound signals that are designed for a particular animal from its offspring.

Food habits

The speckled ground squirrel is a herbivore and feeds on seeds and green plants. Spring shoots of green grass, flowers and seeds form the basis of the animal's diet. The speckled ground squirrel can also feed on insects.


The speckled ground squirrels have developed certain techniques that help them resist predators. Their main defense against enemies is the acoustic connection between individuals in the colony, which allows warning of danger.

Ecosystem Impact

Speckled ground squirrels have a positive effect on the soil. Each individual in its life digs a large number of holes, which ultimately enhances soil aeration. It is also worth noting that they dig a lot more holes than they use, so very often these indentations in the ground become shelter for other species.

Video: gophers - animals about which you did not know much

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