Geoffrey’s ground squirrel, Euxerus erythropus
The striped ground squirrel (Euxerus erythropus ) is a species of squirrel native to Africa. It was first described by Geoffroy in 1803, but the original publication may be unavailable, so that the binomial authority is today more often cited as "Desmarest, 1817". There are six subspecies. It is a moderately large ground squirrel with sandy-brown or dark-brown fur with a white lateral stripe and whitish underparts. Adults live alone or in pairs in a simple burrow with a central nest, foraging, mostly on the ground, for seeds, nuts and roots, and caching excess food under stones. This is a common species with a wide range and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has rated its conservation status as being of "least concern".
The Striped ground squirrel is an African rodent, having 6 sub-species. The coloration of this large ground squirrel is sandy-brown or dark-brown overall and white on the under-parts. The animal also exhibits a white lateral stripe. These squirrels are terrestrial foragers and their diet usually consists of seeds, nuts and roots. They tend to hoard excess food under stones. Mature individuals may live either solitarily or in pairs. Their dwellings are burrows with nests, placed in the center.
The natural range of striped ground squirrels extends throughout the central parts of Africa, except for the Horn of Africa. These rodents are generally found south of the Sahara and north of the tropical rainforest; from the Atlantic coast eastwards to Ethiopia and Kenya. Preferred habitats of this species are open or disturbed forest, savannah country as well as areas near agricultural land. Those occurring at the edges of their range may also inhabit coastal scrubland and semi-desert areas.
Striped ground squirrels are mainly terrestrial and diurnal animals. The peak of activity occurs at dusk and down, although the animals are known to look for shelter during the hottest period of the day in their burrows or shady areas. These rodents are highly social animals, forming groups of 6 - 10, sometimes up to 30, individuals. These are generally female groups, since males tend to be solitary, socializing only during the reproductive season. When not mating, they simply move between groups. The striped ground squirrels spend much of their time sunbathing, foraging and storing food as well as communicating and socializing through a wide variety of vocalizations. When eating, these animals typically sit straight in order to quickly flee if a predator appears.
As omnivorous animals, the striped ground squirrels feed upon a wide variety of food, including palm nuts, banana, pawpaw, seeds, pods, grains, roots such as yams, insects, small vertebrates as well as eggs of various birds.
These rodents have a polygynous mating system, where one male mates with a number of females. They breed throughout the year. Males emit chirping and chattering sounds in order to attract receptive females. Meanwhile, breeding is synchronized among females of a given group. A litter of 3 young is produced after a gestation period of 64 - 78 days. Unfortunately, about 70% of all litters are lost. Newborn young are cared by their mother, whereas the father takes no part in rearing its offspring. This happens because males aren't sure which babies are genetically related to them. The age of weaning is unknown, although Striped ground squirrels are ready to produce young at 1 year old.
Classified as Least Concern, striped ground squirrels currently don't face any serious threats, although in some states of West Africa (at a smaller scale - in Kenya) these animals are hunted for food. In some areas, they are domesticated and kept in houses just like house cats in South Africa.
According to IUCN, the Striped ground squirrel is common, widespread and sometimes abundant throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Today, this species’ numbers are stable and it is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
On one hand, abandoned burrows of striped ground squirrels are used by various mongoose animals. On the other hand, these animals, in turn, protect squirrels from snakes and birds of prey. In addition, due to their 'food caching and forgetting' habit, striped ground squirrels act as key seed dispersers, since the buried and forgotten seeds often germinate.