Paraxerus cepapiSmith's bush squirrel

Geographic Range

Paraxerus cepapi (Smith's bush squirrel) is found in Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa including Southern Angola, Northern Namibia, Southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Western Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Northern South Africa.

There are many subspecies recognized by geographic region. Paraxerus c. cepapi is found in South Africa, Southern Botswana, and Zimbabwe. Paraxerus c. bororensis and P. c. soccatus are found north of the Zambezi River. Paraxerus c. carpi lives near the junction of the Messenguezi and Zambezi rivers in Mozambique. Paraxerus c. chobiensis is found in Northern Namibia, Northern Botswana, and Southern Angola. Paraxerus c. phalaena is found in Central and Northwestern Namibia. Paraxerus c. quotus lives in Southeastern Katanga. Paraxerus c. yulei is found in Northeastern Zambia, Western Tanzania, and Northern Malawi. Paraxerus c. sindi is found in Southern Malawi and the Tete District in Mozambique. (Thorington, et al., 2012; Viljoen and Du Toit, 1985)


Smith's bush squirrels are found in areas that provide appropriate nesting holes. These are commonly savanna, mopane and acacia woodlands. Although these squirrels mostly live in trees, they will also nest in holes on the ground, between rocks, and in house roofs. (Thorington, et al., 2012)

Physical Description

Smith's bush squirrels are medium-sized African bush squirrels. The coat is yellow to brown in color but can vary by region. In general, the dorsal coat is a brownish yellow or gray color, while the ventral coat is a white or gray color with a buff coloration on the chest. The face has white stripes both above and below the eyes and cheeks that are a subtle brownish yellow color. Smith's bush squirrels have long, bushy tails with a black and yellow to brown coloration. Adults have an average body length measuring 238.5 mm and an average body mass of 222.85 g.

Subspecies of P. cepapi can be distinguished by coat colorations and markings. Paraxerus.c. yulei is a larger squirrel that has gray shoulders with tan gray sides, gray markings on the belly, and gray white feet. Paraxerus.c. soccatus can be distinguished by its gray white feet and lack of yellow highlights. Paraxerus.c. bororensis has a darker coloration than Paraxerus.c. cepapi with a gray coloration on the sides of the body and bottom of the hind limbs. Paraxerus.c. quotus is distinguished by its overall darker coloration. Paraxerus.c. carpi is approximately half the size of Paraxerus.c. cepapi and lighter in color. The underside of the tail in Paraxerus.c. sindi is ochraceous. Paraxerus.c. phalaena is distinguished by gray coloration on the back, head, shoulder, hips, and legs. The feet are also a paler white than the subspecies Paraxerus.c. cepapi. Paraxerus.c. chobiensis has a whiter coloration on its ventral side and toes than Paraxerus.c. cepapi. Paraxerus.c. cepapoides has a rusty coloration with tawny markings on the back and thighs. ("Encyclopedia of Life", 2005; Jones, et al., 2009; Thorington, et al., 2012)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    222.85 g
    7.85 oz
  • Average length
    238.5 mm
    9.39 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    145.34 cm3.O2/g/hr


Mating in Paraxerus cepapi is initiated by the female and only occurs in the morning. The female will emit a rattle call. In response, the male will produce a low pitched nasal murmur and chase the female. During this chase, both the males and females will flick their tails and make clicking sounds. During copulation, the male will allogroom the female; after copulation, both sexes will auto groom. (Thorington, et al., 2012)

The gestation period for Paraxerus cepapi is 56 days. They usually only have one litter a year in the wild, but they can produce up to three litters in captivity. In captivity, the interbirth interval lasts 61 days. In Botswana, P. cepapi will give birth during warm wet months, and will not birth during May and September. In South Africa, P. cepapi will tend to give birth from October to January. A study by Susanne Viljoen in 1977 noted observations of breeding synchronization by oestrous vocalization in P. cepapi. Even though breeding can occur throughout the year, Viljoen noted that most young were born during one week in November. It is thought that breeding synchronization helps ensure that more young P. cepapi will reach adult weight. More observations by Viljoen also showed that food availability plays a role in reproduction. In general, females mate and give birth when food supply is high. The young will open their eyes 7 to 9 days after birth and leave the nest willingly 18 to 22 days after birth. Young P. cepapi are weaned between days 29 and 42 and reach sexual maturity between 6 to 10 months. ("Encyclopedia of Life", 2005; Emmons, 1979; Thorington, et al., 2012; Viljoen and Du Toit, 1985; Viljoen, 1977)

  • Breeding interval
    Smith's bush squirrels breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding can occur throughout the year.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    56 days
  • Range weaning age
    29 to 42 days
  • Average weaning age
    38.39 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    6 to 10 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    6 to 10 months

Males and females care for their young. Sometimes males practice infanticide. Females carry their young in their mouth by grasping the hind legs. Once in place, the young hold on to the mother with their arms, legs, and tail. A mother will continue to move their young in this way up until 4 weeks of age, at which time the young resist. From birth to 6 months of age, the young Paraxerus cepapi must follow the parents to eat solid foods. Neither parent will deliver solid food to the young in the nest. Once the young reach sexual maturity, they are forced to leave the group. (Mason, 2007; Thorington, et al., 2012)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Little is known about the lifespan of Paraxerus cepapi in the wild; however, in captivity, one squirrel lived for 9.6 years. (Weigl, 2005)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    9.6 (high) years


Paraxerus cepapi is a social squirrel. They live in groups of one or two adults and many juveniles. Family groups consist of 2 to 12. These groups nest together in trees, ground holes, house roofs, and in-between rocks. Smith's bush squirrels are diurnal and arboreal. Although P. cepapi spends a majority of its time above ground in trees, it occasionally scavenges the ground for fallen foods, such as fruit. The social hierarchy within these groups can be seen during feeding and interactions such grooming, chasing and fighting. They are also territorial and mark areas 0.3 to 1.26 ha in size by mouth wiping, urinating and anal dragging. The only time these territories are not defended is during mating season when other squirrels are allowed to enter. (Thorington, et al., 2012; Viljoen and Du Toit, 1985)

  • Range territory size
    3000 to 12600 m^2

Home Range

Smith's bush squirrels mark areas .3 to 1.26 ha in size by mouth wiping, urinating, and anal dragging. (Thorington, et al., 2012)

Communication and Perception

Smith's bush squirrels are able to communicate using clicking and rattling vocalizations. If disturbed, they will grunt and growl. Their low intensity alarm call consists of three “chir” or “click” sounds. This is used as a warning or territorial defense. They also have a high intensity alarm call composed of six or seven high pitched notes; this is similar to a bird call or whistle. When threatened, P. cepapi is known to flick their tail and head bob.

To assert dominance, a dominant P. cepapi will narrow its eyes at a submissive squirrel. In which case, the submissive squirrel will run away.

During mating, females will click while the males produce a low pitched nasal murmur. (Mason, 2007; Thorington, et al., 2012)

Food Habits

Smith's bush squirrels are mostly vegetarian, consuming many plants, seeds, berries, flowers, and some arthropods. Although opportunistic, they prefer seeds and gums of acacia, and seeds and flowers of aloes. They will also consume termites. In East Africa, the squirrels will also eat insects, bird eggs, and euphorbia leaves.

Smith's bush squirrels will store their food at the bases of trees. (Thorington, et al., 2012)

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers


Predators of the Paraxerus cepapi include snakes, raptors and carnivorous mammals. (Thorington, et al., 2012)

  • Known Predators
    • snake; raptor; carnivorous mammals

Ecosystem Roles

Paraxerus cepapi store food at the bases of trees. This plays a large role in the dispersal of savanna species. (Thorington, et al., 2012)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There is little known about the benefits P. cepapi provide to humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of P. cepapi on humans.

Conservation Status

Paraxerus cepapi is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List. (Grubb, 2008)

Other Comments

Paraxerus cepapi is also known as yellow-footed squirrel.


Alexa Pronga (author), University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


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.


having more than one female as a mate at one time

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


2005. "Encyclopedia of Life" (On-line). Paraxerus cepapi. Accessed April 27, 2016 at

Emmons, L. 1979. Observations on Litter Size and Development of Some African Rainforest Squirrels. Biotropica, 11: 207-213. Accessed April 29, 2016 at

Grubb, P. 2008. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Paraxerus cepapi. Accessed April 27, 2016 at

Hoogstraal, H., K. El Kammah. 1974.

Notes on African Haemaphysalis Ticks. XII. H. (Rhipistoma) zumpti sp. n., a Parasite of Small Carnivores and Squirrels in Southern Africa (Ixodoidea: Ixodidae)
. The Journal of Parasitology, 60: 188-197. Accessed April 27, 2016 at

Jones, K., J. Bielby, M. Cardillo, S. Fritz, J. O'Dell. 2009. PanTHERIA: a species-level database of life history, ecology, and geography of extant and recently extinct mammals. Ecology, 90: 2648. Accessed April 29, 2016 at

Mason, N. 2007. "Paraxerus flavovittis" (On-line). Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 15, 2016 at

Thorington, R., J. Koprowski, M. Steele, J. Whatton. 2012. Squirrels of the World. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Viljoen, S., S. Du Toit. 1985.

Postnatal Development and Growth of Southern African Tree Squirrels in the Genera Funisciurus and Paraxerus
. Journal of Mammology, 66: 119-127. Accessed April 27, 2016 at

Viljoen, S. 1977. Factors affecting breeding synchronization in an African bush squirrel (Paraxerus cepapi cepapi). The Journal of the Society for Reproduction and Fertility, 50: 125-127. Accessed April 27, 2016 at

Weigl, R. 2005. Longevity of Mammals in Captivity; from the Living Collections of the World. Stuttgart: Kleine Senckenberg-Reihe 48. Accessed April 27, 2016 at