Massoutiera mzabiMzab gundi

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Geographic Range

Sahara gundis occupy the central Sahara Desert in Algeria, northern Niger, northwestern Chad, northeastern Mali, and southwestern Libya. (Dieterlen, 1993)

Habitat

Sahara gundis are found mainly in crevices and natural cracks in rocks and/or mountains. They can be found at elevations up to 2400 meters above sea level in desert and semi-desert habitats.

Ideal living sites provide a permanent or temporary shelter, and often allow for easy access to direct sunlight for daily sunbathing.

Sahara gundis do not dig their own dens, nor do they build any type of nest. They seek refuge in naturally rocky landscapes.

(Storch, 1990)

Physical Description

Sahara gundis are cream-colored with yellow and brown shades. They have long and thick fur that serves as good protection against the cold winters of the Sahara desert. These animals have a stocky body and a flat, robust skull. Their average head and body length ranges from 170-240 millimeters; average tail length is 35 millimeters.

Sahara gundis have long, bristly vibrissae that serve as sensory organs in darkness. Their ears are small, round, immovable, and lie flat against its head. Fringes of hair cover the inner ear to block sand from entering the auditory meatus.

They have powerful limbs. The bottom of their feet are hairless and are padded with dense cushion-like padding that adheres to rock and withstands extreme heat. Each foot has four digits with sharp and pointy claws that are ideal for climbing in crevices of rocks. Bristles are found above the claws to further assist the animal in digging through the sand. Bristle combs, used for grooming its fur, are located on the two inner toes of the hind feet.

Females have two pairs of mammae. There are no significant morphological differences between males and females except for the fact that adult females tend to be slightly heavier than adult males.

(Freye, 1975; Nowak, 1999)

  • Range mass
    170 to 195 g
    5.99 to 6.87 oz

Reproduction

Births usually take place during the first half of the year.

Typically one litter of two or three young is produced. The gestation period is unknown, but ranges from 69-79 days in Ctenodactylus gundi, a related species.

Sahara gundis are born fully developed. Their eyes and ears are open at birth, and their bodies are fully furred. Newborns weigh approximately 20-21 grams, and are 7-8 centimeters long from head to tail.

Within an hour of being born, the young begin to roam around and to sunbathe. They grow rapidly and reach the weight of an adult after three months. The average weaning period ranges from 3-6 weeks

Sahara gundis reach sexual maturity after 8-12 months. The average estrous cycle of a female 24.9 days.

There is no documented information regarding the mating system of sahara gundis.

(Freye, 1975; Nowak, 1999; Storch, 1990)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual

Behavior

Sahara gundis are diurnal- they spend the night in the shelter of rock crevices. These animals spend the day foraging, grooming, sunbathing, and exploring/playing.

When the temperature is extremely high, Sahara gundis remain inactive for much of the day. Activity begins at sunrise, significantly declines by noon, and resumes by 5 p.m.. When the weather is cold or wet, the animals may not emerge out of their shelters at all. Although they can withstand temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, they are seldom seen outside when the temperature rises above 95 degrees Fahrenheit or below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sahara gundis live in groups consisting of family members with close social ties. It has been observed that females help other females during pregnancy and when giving birth. There are records of aggressive behavior between males of different groups and between males of the same group. Neighboring groups do not have distinct regional boundaries, as no animal was observed as being driven away from a particular area.

Sahara gundis spend a significant amount of time engaged in grooming their fur. They use the bristle combs on their hind feet to loosen and comb the long and thick fur. The animal strokes its body with one hind leg, while balancing on the other three legs.

A significant amount of the day is also devoted to sunbathing. When sunning their bodies, the sahara gundi lies stretched flat on its stomach. They prefer to sunbathe in temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit; also, they have been observed to rest on rocks that are still heated from the sun.

When sahara gundis are frightened or surprised, they exhibit an interesting kind of behavior. When startled, they give a short and chirpy whistle, and then scurry away rapidly. When confronted with a predator (snakes, lizards) the animal goes into a trancelike state. It lies motionless on its side with its legs stretched out, and stops breathing for up to one minute. With its mouth half open and its eyes wide open, the sahara gundi appears to be dead. After two or three minutes, the state of rigidity slowly fades, its normal state of breathing resumes, and it flees.

(Nowak, 1999; Storch, 1990)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Sahara gundis are exclusively herbivorous. Their diet consists of leaves, stems, seeds, grasses, and herbs.

Sahara gundis feed on plant material directly from the ground. They drink water regularly, but have a water intake that is low overall. They compensate for this by feeding on a variety of plants that have a high water content.

(Nowak, 1999 ; Storch, 1990)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There is no recorded evidence of sahara gundis benefiting humans as a food source or for fur trades.

(Freye, 1975)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Sahara gundis are generally restricted to desert or semi-desert habitats, and dwell in rock crevices. Therefore, it is unlikely that they contribute to any serious agricultural (or other) problems that would adversely affect humans.

(Freye, 1975; Nowak, 1999)

Conservation Status

There is very little information about the status of Massoutiera mzabi. There are no recorded estimates of how many animals in this species presently exists.

These animals are confined to Northern Africa, and tend to inhabit remote places such as crevices in rocks and mountains. Thus, it does not seem as though the species would be threatened by habitat loss. (Dieterlen, 1993)

Contributors

Lata Viswanathan (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.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

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

Dieterlen, F. 1993. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, 2nd ed.. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Freye, H. 1975. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, 6th ed., Volume 2. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Storch, G. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, Volume 3. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.