European Ground Squirrel

European Ground Squirrel

European souslik

Spermophilus citellus
Population size
Life Span
8-10 years
g oz 
cm inch 

The European ground squirrel (Spermophilus citellus ), also known as the European souslik, is a species from the squirrel family, Sciuridae. It is among the few European species in the genus Spermophilus. Like all squirrels, it is a member of the rodent order. It is to be found in eastern Europe from southern Ukraine, to Asia Minor, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and north as far as Poland but the range is divided in two parts by the Carpathian Mountains.

Show More

The European ground squirrel grows to a length of approximately 20 cm (8 in) and a weight of approximately 300 grams (11 oz). It is a diurnal animal, living in colonies of individual burrows in pastures or grassy embankments. The squirrels emerge during the day to feed upon seeds, plant shoots and roots or flightless invertebrates. The colonies maintain sentinels who whistle at the sight of a predator, bringing the pack scurrying back to safety.

Breeding takes place in early summer when a single litter of five to eight young is borne. The European ground squirrel hibernates between autumn and March, the length of time depending on the climate. In preparation they will build up reserves of brown fat during the late summer.

Show Less


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 Squirrel habitat map

Climate zones

European Ground Squirrel habitat map
European Ground Squirrel

Habits and Lifestyle

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.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

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.

Mating Habits

26 days
5-8 pups
pup, kit, kitten

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.


Population threats

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.

Population number

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.


1. European Ground Squirrel on Wikipedia -
2. European Ground Squirrel on The IUCN Red List site -

More Fascinating Animals to Learn About