DendromurinaeAfrican climbing mice, fat mice, tree mice, and relatives


Dendromurinae is an Old World subfamily of terrestrial and arboreal mouse-like rodents in the family Nesomyidae. There are 24 dendromurine species in six genera. (Musser and Carleton, 2005)

Geographic Range

Dendromurines are native to sub-saharan Africa. (Carleton and Musser, 1984)


Dendromurines live in dry or wet grasslands, scrublands, sandy plains, savannahs, alpine and subalpine habitats, forests, swamps, agricultural fields, and floodplain woodlands. They live at elevations from sea level to 4,300 meters. (Carleton and Musser, 1984; Nowak, 1999)

Physical Description

Dendromurines are small, mouse-like rodents. They range from 50 mm to 145 mm in head and body length, their tails range from 28 to 132 mm, and they weigh 5 to 70 grams. The body is very thick with layers of fat in some species. Dendromurine fur is soft and woolly, long and silky, or short, dense, and velvety. They are gray, brown, reddish or pinkish on the dorsal surface and gray, yellowish, white, or light brown below. There may be black stripes on the back. The tail is sometimes bicolored, usually long and scantily-haired, and is semi-prehensile in some species. The ears are prominent and rounded. Most dendromurines have long, narrow hind feet which are modified for terrestrial, scansorial, or arboreal locomotion.

The dental formula of dendromurines is 1/1, 0/0, 0/0, 3/3 = 16. The incisors are orthodont, opisthodont, or proodont, and the molars are rooted and cuspidate. There is a posterior cingulum on the first and second lower molars. Dendromurines have long, shallow dentaries and long rostrums. The infraorbital foramina are quite wide, and there is an accessory foramen ovale. The middle lacerate formina are small. There is a large, conspicuous tubercle for the origin of the superficial masseter. The lateral surface of the alisphenoid canal is formed from a strut of the alisphenoid bone. (Carleton and Musser, 1984; Nowak, 1999)


There is no information available on the mating system of dendromurines.

Dendromurines breed either seasonally or year round. Gestation periods last 22 to 35 days, and there are one to eight young per litter, with an average of five. The young remain with their mother in the nest for about 30 to 35 days, and they become sexually mature at about 50 days of age. (Carleton and Musser, 1984; Nowak, 1999)

Female dendromurines nurse their young for about a month. (Nowak, 1999)

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


Dendromurines live to be three to four years old in captivity. Data on lifespan in the wild is lacking, but it is undoubtedly somewhat shorter. (Carey and Judge, 2002)


Dendromurines are terrestrial or arboreal nocturnal rodents. Some species aestivate during the dry season when food is scarce, living off fat reserves. Dendromurines are either social and tolerant of one another, living peacefully in groups, or solitary and territorial. They build globular nests out of vegetation in tall trees, low shrubs, or underground burrows. Dendromurine burrows range from about 30 to 120 cm deep and often have multiple escape routes. Some species cover over old bird nests and use these for nesting. (Carleton and Musser, 1984; Nowak, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Dendromurines perceive their environment through vision, hearing, olfaction, taste, and touch, but there is no available information on the relative importance of these senses or on their modes of communication.

Food Habits

Dendromurines are herbivorous, carnivorous, or omnivorous. Some species primarily eat green vegetable matter, others eat only ants. Most have more varied diets, and consume seeds, nuts, fruits, buds, insects, lizards, and bird eggs and nestlings. (Carleton and Musser, 1984; Nowak, 1999)


Predators on dendromurines include owls, snakes, and mammalian carnivores. They are likely to take advantage of their nocturnal habits, agility, and vigilance to avoid predation. (Carleton and Musser, 1984)

Ecosystem Roles

Dendromurines are primary, secondary, and tertiary consumers, and they are food for animals at higher trophic levels. Dendromurines are parasitized by several flea species, including Nosopsyllus incisus, Dinopsyllus grypurus, D. lypusus, Leptopsylla algira, Ctenophthalmus verutus, C. evidens, and Xenopsylla bantorum. (Hubbard, 1972; Nowak, 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Some dendromurine species are considered a delicacy and are eaten by native peoples. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Dendromurines may carry the plague in some areas. (Hubbard, 1972)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease

Conservation Status

The IUCN currently lists one dendromurine species as critically endangered (Mt. Kahuzi climbing mice, Dendromus kahuziensis), three as vulnerable (Lovat's climbing mice, Dendromus lovati, Cameroon climbing mice, Dendromus oreas, and Jackson's fat mice, Steatomys jacksoni), and four as data deficient (Vernay's climbing mice, Dendromus vernayi, velvet climbing mice, Dendroprionomys rousseloti, Nikolaus' mice, Megadendromus nikolausi, and Dollman's tree mice, Prionomys batesi). Several species in this subfamily are rare endemics, making them especially vulnerable to habitat loss. (IUCN, 2004)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Other Comments

The earliest known dendromurine fossils are from the middle Miocene of Kenya. The earliest representatives of recent genera are Dendromus fossils from the late Miocene of Ethiopia and Namibia. (Musser and Carleton, 2005)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Allison Poor (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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.


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


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


Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


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).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


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.


active during the night


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


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


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


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

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.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


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