Dendromus melanotisgray climbing mouse

Geographic Range

Dendromus melanotis is found in sub-Saharan Africa, having the most extensive range of any of the four species in the Genus Dendromus (Kingdon 1989). Specifically grey climbing mice are found in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Southern Zimbabwe, Western Mozambique, and the North Eastern corner of Nambia (Stuart 1999). It is believed that D. melanotis is expanding its range (Kingdon 1989).


Dendromus melanotis lives in grasses and shrubs which characterizes the savanna composing the majority of its range (Kingdon 1990). Grey climbing mice are mostly found in grass-brush biotypes (Dieterlen 1990). A study of small mammals in South Africa demonstrated that D. melanotis can be found in coastal lowlands, lowveld, moist upland, highland, and montane areas (Avery 1997). In a 1971 study Dieterlen found that, of the 87 grey climbing mice trapped, 14 were found in dry-grass savanna, 34 in mixed biotypes, and 39 in moist habitats.

Physical Description

Dendromus melanotis has a body length ranging from 6-9 cm and a tail length of 7.5-13 cm. The pelage is ash-grey with a dark dorsal stripe, and white or off-white underparts. Grey climbing mice have a long, prehensile tail, three digits per hand, unusually large eyes, and females have eight mammae. (Stuart 1999; Dieterlen 1990; Kingdon 1989).

  • Range mass
    8 to 17 g
    0.28 to 0.60 oz


The gestation period for D. melanotis is 23-27 days. Litters of five to eight young are born in the summer (Stuart 1999). Grey climbing mice are born without hair and undeveloped, weighing about 1 gram. The eyes open 20-24 days after parturition. It then takes another 4-5 weeks for the young to be weaned. It is unknown at what age grey climbing mice reach sexual maturity. Dendromus melanotis has a life span of 3-4 years in captivity, but it is not presently known if this is representative of its life span in the wild (Dieterlen 1990).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    25 days


  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    4.2 years


Grey climbing mice are nocturnal and good climbers. Their prehensile tails and specially adapted toes make them well adapted to climbing slender grass stalks. Grey climbing mice build small ball-shaped nests of grass no more than one meter above the ground (Stuart 1999). These nests are unlined and approximately three inches in diameter. A single individual occupies each nest and enters through a hole in the side (Roosevelt 1915). Grey climbing mice have also been found in abandoned weaver-bird and sunbird nests (Nowak 1999). If frightened while in their nests grey climbing mice leave, only to return shortly after the disturbance ends (Roosevelt 1915). Dendromus melanotis is also known to dig burrows, which are about 30-60 mm deep. These burrows have an open entrance tunnel and an exit hole opposite the entrance tunnel (Nowak 1999). It is believed that grey climbing mice dig burrows to avoid annual fires that occur in the habitat they reside in (Kingdon 1990).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Grey climbing mice are granivorous and insectivorous. Of seven stomachs examined by Dieterlen (1971), three contained a mixture of starchy and fatty seeds, one contained a mixture of seeds and insects, and two contained small beetles. In another study it was found that 100% of the stomachs examined contained seeds and 24% contained Arthropods (Rowe-Rowe 1986).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

No documented examples.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

No documented examples.

Conservation Status


Ben Clauss (author), St. Lawrence University, Erika Barthelmess (editor), St. Lawrence University.


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


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.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


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


uses touch to communicate

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.


"Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora" (On-line). Accessed November 5, 2000 at

October 26, 2000. "Threatened Animals of the World." (On-line). Accessed October 31, 2000 at

September 22, 2000. "U.S. ESA: NatureServe Data for Listed Status in the United States" (On-line). Accessed November 5, 2000 at

Avery, D. 1997. Micromammals on the Holocene environment of Rose Cottage Cave. South African Journal of Science, 93: 445-449.

Dieterlen, F. 1971. Beitrage zur Systematik, Okologie und Biologie der Gattung Dendromus insbesondere ihrer zentralafrikanischen Formen. in East African mammals: an atlas of evolution in Africa. (Kingdon, J.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dieterlen, F. 1990. Grizmek’s encyclopedia mammals. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.

Kingdon, J. 1989. East African mammals: an atlas of evolution in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nowak, . 1999. Walker's mammals of the world. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Roosevelt, T., E. Heller. 1914. Life-Histories of African Game Animals. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Rowe-Rowe, D. 1986. Stomach contents of small mammals from Drakensburg, South Africa. South African journal of wildlife research, 16: 32-35.

Stuart, C. 1999. Field guide to the mammals of southern Africa. Sanibel Island, Fla: Ralph Curtis Books.