Ctenodactylus gundigundi

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Geographic Range

Ctenodactylus gundi, the North African gundi, can be found in Southeastern Morocco, Northern Algeria, Tunisia and Libya (Macdonald, 1984; Walker, 1975).

Habitat

The North African gundi is found in deserts with arid rock outcrops. Its habitat may also include a rocky slope on a hill or mountain (Macdonald, 1984; Walker, 1975).

Physical Description

The North African gundi ranges in size from 16-20cm for its head body length. It has a tiny tail, a mere whisp of hairs that is about 10 to 20mm long.

Gundis have very short legs, flat ears, big eyes, and long whiskers. It has been said that when seen crouched on a rock in the sun with the wind blowing through their fur, they look like powder puffs (Macdonald, 1984). They have compact bodies, resembling guinea pigs in external appearance. Each of their feet has four digits, the two inner digits of the hind foot have comblike bristles that stand out against their dark claws. The claws are not enlarged but are very sharp (Walker, 1975).

The skull of the North African gundi is broad posteriorly. It has a straight palate. The cheek teeth are rootless (ever growing) and they have the following dental formula: 1/1 0/0 1-2/1-2/ 3/3 X2= 20 or 24 (Walker, 1975).

  • Range mass
    175 to 195 g
    6.17 to 6.87 oz

Reproduction

Female gundis have a gestation period of forty days. The mother has four nipples, two on her flanks and two on her chest. She usually has a litter size of two. The babies are born fully furred and with their eyes open. The young have few opportunities to suckle as they are weaned on chewed leaves starting with their mother's first foraging expedition after birth. They are fully weaned after four weeks. Weaning probably occurs so soon after birth because the mother has little milk to spare in the dry heat of the desert (Macdonald, 1984).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
    1.9
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    74 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    319 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    5.8 years
    AnAge

Behavior

Gundis are gregarious. They live in colonies varying in density depending on the food supply and the terrain. Within colonies family territories are occupied by a male, female, and juvenile or by several females and offspring. Gundis make their homes in the shelter of rock outcroppings. These are usually temporary. Characteristically, a shelter retains the day's heat through a cold night and stays cool during a hot day. In the winter, gundis pile on top of each other to stay warm. The juveniles are protected from the crush by their mothers or are wrapped in the soft fur at the back of her neck (Macdonald, 1984).

Long distance foraging generates body heat, which can be dangerous on a hot desert day. Therefore, gundis display behavior characteristics much resembling those of lizards. They sunbathe in the early morning until the temperature rises above 20 °C (68°F) and then begin foraging. After a quick feed, they flatten themselves again on the warm rocks. Thus they make use of the sun to keep their bodies warm and to speed digestion. By the time the temperature reaches 32°C (90°F), the gundis have taken shelter in the shade of the rocks and do not come out again until the temperature drops in the afternoon (Macdonald, 1984).

Gundis communicate by making a chirping sound. In the dry desert air and the rocky terrain their low-pitched alert calls carry well. They also thump with their hind feet when alarmed. After hearing a warning, gundis scurry under the rocks and out of harm's way. In fact, gundis are able to flatten their ribs in order to squeeze into a crack in the rocks (Macdonald, 1984; Walker, 1975).

On sloping surfaces, the North African gundi presses its body against the wall and uses the slightest irregularities in the obstruction to ascend almost perpendicularly (Walker, 1975).

Another common characteristic of gundis is that they rapidly scratch their rump in a circular motion with the combed instep on their feet (Macdonald, 1984).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The diet of C. gundi consists of a variety of vegetation. Leaves, stalks, flowers, and the seeds of almost any desert plant (including grass and acacia) are used as sustenance (Macdonald, 1984).

Typically, gundis forage over long distances due to the scarcity of food available in their desert habitats. They may forage up to 1 kilometer (.6 mi) per morning. Their home range size varies from a few square meters to 3 square kilometers (1.9 sq mi) (Macdonald, 1984).

Regular foraging is essential because gundis do not store food. When long foraging expeditions are necessary gundis alternate feeding in the sun and cooling off in the shade. In extreme drought gundis eat at dawn when plants contain the most moisture.

Interestingly, gundis do not drink. They get most of their water intake from the plants they eat (Macdonald, 1984; Walker, 1975). Their kidneys have long tubules for absorbing water and their urine can be concentrated if plants dry out completely. However, this is an emergency response and can only be sustained for a limited time period (Macdonald, 1984).

Another interesting fact about their foraging foraging is that while most rodents are good gnawers, gundis are not because they lack the hard orange enamel on the outer surfaces of their incisors (Macdonald, 1984).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In the mid-19th century the explorer John Speke shot gundis in the coastal hills of Somalia. It is not known if this was done for sport or for food, but potentially gundis could be used as both (Macdonald, 1984).

It is known that some Arabian tribes hunt gundis for food during the twilight hours (Walker, 1975).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

North African gundis could potentially be destructive to crops, gardens and such where their ranges overlap with human habitation.

Conservation Status

This species is not on the endangered species list.

Other Comments

In 1908, two French doctors isolated a protozoan parasite now known to occur in almost every mammal, in the spleen of a North African gundi. They called it Toxoplasma gondii (Macdonald, 1984).

Twilight, in the common speech of the Arabians whom inhabit this region, is called "the hour when the gundi comes out" (Walker, 1975).

Contributors

Heather Leu (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

References

Macdonald, D. 1984. The encyclopedia of mammals. New York: Facts on File Publications.

Walker, E., J. Paradiso. 1975. Mammals of the world. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press.