Petromyscus collinuspygmy rock mouse

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Geographic Range

Pygmy rock mice (Petromyscus collinus) are found in arid regions of southern Africa. This species has been documented to inhabit the southwestern region of Angola and the southern area of Nambia. (Dempster and Perrin, 1989; Skinner and Smithers, 1990)

Habitat

Pygmy rock mice occupy rocky habitats in high desert areas up to 1000 m in elevation. (De Graaff, 1981; Withers, et al., 1980)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 1000 m
    0.00 to 3280.84 ft

Physical Description

Pygmy rock mice weigh an average of 18 to 20 g. Body length is usually 80 mm, tail length around 82 mm, and hind foot length 15 mm.

Pygmy rock mice have darker skin at birth than do similar species, such as Gerbillurus sp., which have skin that is almost translucent at birth. Proliferation of hair begins within 4 days of birth and is first visible on the dorsum. Pelage coloration of young is dark grey, whereas adult pelage is brown-grey in coloration.

The masseter muscles appear to be well developed at birth, yielding disproportionately large cheeks that are thought to be related to nipple-clinging behavior during the nursing period. Nipple-clinging has been documented in several rodent species, although its function has not been clearly established, nor has it been clearly defined. (Brown, et al., 1998; Dempster and Perrin, 1989)

  • Range mass
    18 to 20 g
    0.63 to 0.70 oz
  • Average mass
    18.2 g
    0.64 oz
  • Average length
    162 mm
    6.38 in

Reproduction

Little is known about reproduction in pygmy rock mice. The mating system of these animals has not been described.

It is thought that pygmy rock mice become reproductively active only in the presence of fog. As a result, their reproductive behavior is highly seasonal and of short duration, resulting in low reproductive potential but high annual survival (Withers, 1983).

Female pygmy rock mice produce one liter per year, with an average litter size of 2.8 young. A distinguishing behavior of young is nipple-clinging, wherein the young remain attached to the nipple of the mother until they are weaned. The length of gestation is not known, but in other murine rodents of similar size, gestation does not often last more than about one month. Weaning is reported to occur betweeen 30 and 33 days of age. These mice probably become independent and disperse around the time of weaning. (De Graaff, 1981; Dempster and Perrin, 1989; Nowak, 1999; Withers, 1983)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding occurs once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    These mice are thought to breed when water is available.
  • Average number of offspring
    2.8
  • Range weaning age
    30 to 33 days

In one study of maternal behavior, that mothers remained in the nest when disturbed; one mother took defense by tooth-chattering and mounting a threat posture. The young of this species cling to the teat. However, females were seldom observed to leave the nest, so it is not known whether they forage with the young attached to the teats. Mothers mouth carry their young if they become detached from the teats and also retrieve older young that have left the nest; this response waned 21 days after parturition. Grooming was observed, but rare, in one litter, where a pup approached its mother and licked her mouth in the diastema region. (Dempster and Perrin, 1989)

Beyond these details on specific behaviors of P. collinus, we can infer that this species is not unlike other small murine rodents. The mother provides care to the offspring, including protection and food. It is unlikely that parental care extends much beyond the period of lactation. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

There are no data on lifespan in the wild or captivity.

Behavior

Small Namibian desert mammals avoid the extreme temperature and humidity by being surface-active at night and remaining underground during the day. (Withers, et al., 1980)

Home Range

In the region where these mice occur, rocky outcroppings tend to be separated by over a kilometer, acting as habitat islands for pygmy rock mice. Rock outcroppings are very important to serve as protection from predators. (Brown, et al., 1998)

Communication and Perception

Neonates of the pygmy rock mice squeak loudly when disturbed and also make a rhythmic clicking noise. It has been observed that adult pygmy rock mice squeak loudly when disturbed. One mother who was disturbed adopted a threat-poster and chattered her teeth. (Dempster and Perrin, 1989; Withers, 1983)

In addition to using these vocal and visual means of communication, there is significant tactile communication in this species between mother and offspring, as well as between mates.

Most mice use olfactory cues to identify mates and rivals. It is likely that these mice are similar in this regard. (Nowak, 1999)

Food Habits

Petromyscus species are generally reported to be omnivorous, and it is likely that P. collinus is similar in this regard. Pygmy rock mice are sometimes reported to be granivorous, but this granivory may be indirect. Although the rocky outcroppings which they inhabit may offer protection, they provide little in the way of feeding opportunities. Studies have shown that heavy grazing by hyraxes leaves little vegetation for pygmy rock mice. Instead, it is thought that pygmy rock mice are either removing seeds from the feces of hyrax or eating hyrax fecal pellets. Alternatively, they may be feeding on insects and arthropods that in turn are exploiting the feces. In any case, the diet of these animals remains slightly mysterious, and merrits further investigation. (Brown, et al., 1998)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • Other Foods
  • dung

Predation

Yellow mongoose and slender mongoose inhabit the same area as pygmy rock mice and are likely predators of these small rodents. However, actual predation on pygmy rock mice by these species has not been documented. (Brown, et al., 1998)

Ecosystem Roles

Since pygmy rock mice seem to depend on hyrax feces as a food source, an obligate relationship might exist between the two species. They may play some role in dispersing seeds, and may act as a control on some insect populations. They may play some role as a prey species in local food webs.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known human benefits from this species.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Hantavirus might be transmitted during handling procedures. (Scott, 2002)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease

Conservation Status

The conservation status of these small animals is not known.

Contributors

Chris Binschus (author), Humboldt State University, Brian Arbogast (editor, instructor), Humboldt State University.

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Glossary

Ethiopian

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

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

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.

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.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

iteroparous

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).

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.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

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

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

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

References

Brown, J., B. Kotler, M. Knight. 1998. Patch use in the pygmy rock mouse (Petromyscus collinus). Mammalia, 62: 108-112.

De Graaff, J. 1981. The Rodents of Southern Africa. Durban and Pretoria: Butterworths.

Dempster, E., M. Perrin. 1989. Maternal behaviour and neonatal development in three species of Namib Desert rodents. Journal of Zoology, 218: 407-419.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Scott, M. 2002. "www.google.com" (On-line). Accessed April 24, 2005 at earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Study/Hanta/.

Skinner, J., R. Smithers. 1990. The Mammals of The Southern African Subregion. Pretoria, Transvaal, Republic of South Africa: University of Pretoria, 2d edn.: 314.

Withers, P. 1983. Seasonal reproduction by small mammals of the Namib desert. Mammalia, 47: 195-204.

Withers, P., G. Louw, J. Henschel. 1980. Energetics and water relations of Namib desert rodents. South African Journal of Zoology, 15/3: 131-137.