Spermophilopsis leptodactyluslong-clawed ground squirrel

Geographic Range

Long-clawed ground squirrels (Spermophilopsis leptodactylus) are the only species of the xerine squirrels found outside of Africa. Their population is concentrated in Central Asia, from the southeastern shore of the Caspian Sea to Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan. This region includes the countries Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the western parts of Tajikistan. The northwest region of Afghanistan and the northeast region of Iran create the southernmost boundary of their distribution. (Molur, 2019)


  • Range elevation
    1000 (high) m
    3280.84 (high) ft

Physical Description

Long-clawed ground squirrels are the only species within the genus Spermophilopsis. Their name is derived from the unusually long claws on their forelimbs. Long-clawed ground squirrels are similar in size to many other squirrel species, with head and body lengths of 200 to 280 mm and tail lengths of 70 to 90 mm. Their dorsal pelage is yellow to grayish-yellow and their ventral pelage is white. There are no stripes evident on this species. Their coats are short in the summer and long and fuzzy in the winter. With this seasonal change, long-clawed ground squirrels can remain active throughout the year. The bottom of their tails are black and the top is fringed with yellow and white bristles. The soles of their feet are heavily furred year round. A unique characteristic of long-clawed ground squirrels is the multiple pairs of vibrissae on the underside of their bodies. Vibrissae are stiff hairs, similar to whiskers on cats, that help sense the surrounding environment. The vibrissae on these squirrels may be helpful when they are climbing through shrubs. Other defining features of long-clawed ground squirrels are their long, thick claws, which grow more than 10 mm long. These claws are very powerful and are used for multiple purposes, including digging burrows. (Grzimek, 1990; Molur, 2019; Steppan and Hamm, 2004)

  • Range length
    200 to 280 mm
    7.87 to 11.02 in


Long-clawed ground squirrels mate annually from February to March, with two to six offspring being born around April or May. They are polygynous, meaning males mate with multiple females during their mating season. (Grzimek, 1990; Nowak, 1999)

There is currently no known information regarding the reproduction cycle of long-clawed ground squirrels, however most sciurid species breed in early spring following hibernation. Closely related ground squirrel species give birth to 2 to 9 offspring after a gestation period of 30 to 60 days. Weaning typically occurs eight weeks after birth. (Grzimek, 1990)

  • Breeding interval
    S. leptodactylus mate annually in February and March.
  • Breeding season
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 6
  • Range gestation period
    26 to 65 days
  • Average gestation period
    30 days
  • Average weaning age
    8 weeks

There is currently no information regarding parental investment of long-clawed ground squirrels. However, parental investment in other ground squirrels belonging to the family Sciuridae – specifically the subfamily Xerinae - generally involves females providing food and care for their young. In species in which females aggregate, they may release part of their home territory to juveniles, which increases survivorship. (Steppan and Hamm, 2004)


There is currently no information regarding the lifespan of long-clawed ground squirrels. However, the typical lifespan of other ground squirrels in the subfamily Xerinae is 8 to 14 years in the wild and up to 16 or more years in captivity. However, many ground squirrels do not live past their first year of life in the wild. (Molur, 2019; Steppan and Hamm, 2004)


There is limited information regarding the behavior of long-clawed ground squirrels, but researchers have observed that they are active during the day. These squirrels have been observed to travel almost 1,000 m in search of food when food sources are scarce. Like most ground squirrel species they are social, but tend to have smaller-sized family groups (1 to 10 members) compared to prairie dog (Cynomys) colonies (1 to 26 members). (Grzimek, 1990; Molur, 2019; Steppan and Hamm, 2004)

Home Range

Small family units congregate in and around burrows that are near or hidden by brush and foliage.

Communication and Perception

There is no research currently available regarding long-clawed ground squirrel communication and perception. However, they do have multiple pairs of vibrissae on the underside of their bodies. Vibrissae are stiff hairs that are very sensitive to the surrounding environment. The vibrissae on these squirrels may be helpful when they are climbing through shrubs in search of shelter or food. (M. Lay, 1963; Molur, 2019; Steppan and Hamm, 2004)

Food Habits

Long-clawed ground squirrels eat fruits, nuts, seeds, and green vegetation available in their arid habitats. Occasionally they eat insects such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and their larvae, and ants. These squirrels have been observed to travel almost 1,000 m in search of food when other food sources are scarce. (Steppan and Hamm, 2004)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Although there are currently no reported predators, long-clawed ground squirrels have developed long, thick claws which grow more than 10 mm long. These claws are very powerful and are used for multiple purposes, including digging burrows and protection against possible predators. (Kryštufek, et al., 2019; Steppan and Hamm, 2004)

Ecosystem Roles

There is no research regarding the ecosystem roles of long-clawed ground squirrels. Like most ground squirrels, they are relatively docile and have no major impact on other species. They may serve as a food source for desert predators. However, they may be difficult to catch because they tend to live in harsh environments and are often burrowed underground. (Grzimek, 1990; Harrison, et al., 2003; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Long-clawed ground squirrels are occasionally hunted for use in clothing, but their fur is not considered highly valuable. This species has no important use for humans as they do not occupy populated regions and are a relatively uncommon species. (Corbet, 1978; Steppan and Hamm, 2004)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of long-clawed ground squirrels on humans.

Conservation Status

Long-clawed ground squirrels are not of current concern for conservation efforts. This species seems to be maintaining stable population levels and are facing no major threats. It is not known if they are present within any protected areas. Further studies are needed to better understand exploitation of this species. (Molur, 2019)


Greer Handley (author), Colorado State University, Kate Gloeckner (editor), Colorado State University, Galen Burrell (editor).



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

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.

  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.


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.


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.


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


having more than one female as a mate at one time

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.

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


Corbet, G. 1978. The mammals of the Palaearctic Region : a taxonomic review. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Accessed February 12, 2019 at https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/742203.

Grzimek, B. 1990. S Parker, ed. Grzimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 3. New York: Mcgraw-Hill.

Harrison, R., S. Bogdanowicz, R. Hoffmann, E. Yensen, P. Sherman. 2003. Phylogeny and Evolutionary History of the Ground Squirrels (Rodentia: Marmotinae). Springer US: Journal of Mammalian Evolution. Accessed February 12, 2019 at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/B:JOMM.0000015105.96065.f0.

Kryštufek, B., A. Mahmoudi, A. S. Tesakov, J. Matějů, R. Hutterer. 2019. "A review of bristly ground squirrels Xerini and a generic revision in the African genus Xerus" (On-line). ResearchGate. Accessed February 12, 2019 at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287107810_A_review_of_bristly_ground_squirrels_Xerini_and_a_generic_revision_in_the_African_genus_Xerus.

M. Lay, D. 1963. A Study of the Mammals of Iran. Karadj, Iran: Field Museum of Natural History. Accessed February 12, 2019 at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237573471_Annotated_check-list_of_the_mammals_of_Iran.

Molur, S. 2019. "Spermophilopsis leptodactylus (errata version published in 2017)" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed February 12, 2019 at https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/20471/115158585.

Moore, J. 1959. Relationships among the living squirrels of the Sciurinae. New York: American Museum of Natural History. Accessed February 12, 2019 at http://digitallibrary.amnh.org/handle/2246/1265?show=full.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World Vol. 2. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins.

Steppan, S., S. Hamm. 2004. "

Spermophilopsis. Spermophilopsis leptodactylus. Long-clawed Ground Squirrel.
" (On-line). The Tree of Life Web Project. Accessed February 12, 2019 at http://tolweb.org/Spermophilopsis_leptodactylus/16820.

Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 2005. "Mammal Species of the World" (On-line). Accessed February 12, 2019 at https://www.departments.bucknell.edu/biology/resources/msw3/.