The European ground squirrel has a slender body with a short bushy tail. The short dense fur is yellowish-grey, tinged with red, with a few indistinct pale and dark spots on the back. The underside is pale with a sandy-coloured abdomen. The large dark eyes are placed high on the head and the small, rounded ears are hidden in the fur. The legs are powerful with sharp claws well adapted for digging. Males are slightly larger than females otherwise they look alike.
European ground squirrels are found in southeast Asia and throughout eastern Europe where its range is divided by the Carpathian Mountains. They occur in southern Ukraine, Turkey, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and north as far as Poland. These ground squirrels inhabit steppes and pasture, dry banks, sports fields, parks, and lawns. Other places with short vegetation that sometimes provides suitable habitat are railway embankments and road cuttings and verges.
European ground squirrels are colonial animals and are mainly diurnal. They excavate a branching system of tunnels up to 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) deep with several entrances. These animals spend half of the day foraging and the rest time they spend exploring the area, running, sitting, grooming, digging, scent marking and vigilance. When threatened these small animals produce a shrill alarm call that will cause all other individuals in the vicinity to dive for cover. When they are out in the open they often sit upright and look around for predators. European ground squirrels also make various soft chirruping and growling noises. During the winter they close the entrances to the burrow and hibernate in a nest of dry vegetation. Each individual occupies a separate chamber. During hibernation, the squirrel may wake up briefly for a few days and uses up the fat reserves accumulated during the summer, consuming about 90% of the fat stored in the body.
European ground squirrels are omnivorous. They feed on grasses, other plants, flowers, seeds, cultivated crops, insects and occasionally the eggs of ground nesting birds or their chicks.
Little information is known about the mating habits of European ground squirrels. They start breeding after emerging from hibernation in the spring, during April or May. The gestation period lasts about 26 days and five to eight young are born in a chamber deep in the burrow. They are naked and blind and their eyes open at about 4 weeks old. The mother feeds her babies for 6 weeks and soon after that, they are ready to leave the burrow. Juveniles reach maturity the following spring.
The main threats to these animals are the conversion of grassland and pasture to cultivated fields or to forestry, and the abandonment of grassland and its reversion to unsuitable tall grass meadows and bushy habitats that do not suit the animal. Urbanization and road building have sometimes fragmented communities and prevented recolonisation of empty sites.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the European ground squirrel is unknown. However, there are estimated populations of the species in the following areas: in Romania - 15,000 individuals; in the Czech Republic - 2,750 individuals. Currently, this species is classified Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.