Cape Ground Squirrel

© Nigel J Dennis

Name

Cape ground squirrel (Xerus inauris)

Appearance

The Cape ground squirrel is a rodent endemic to South Africa. It has a coarse, cinnamon coloured coat with a white stripe running down either side of its body. Its white underparts and fluffy, fan-like tail have white tipped, black based hairs. In winter, the Cape ground squirrel grows a longer coat for warmth. It weighs up to one kilogram and measures 450 mm in length.

Cape Ground Squirrel Diet

Being predominantly herbivorous, the Cape ground squirrel feeds on roots and bulbs dug up with its front teeth and claws, and at times eats termites in summer. It gnaws and nibbles at its food in the typical rodent manner with its sharp incisors.

Cape Ground Squirrel Breeding

Female reach sexual maturity at the age of six months, although those older than one year are allowed to reproduce. Only one female per social group can be in her oestrus cycle at a time. After a gestation period of about 48 days, two to six young of 20 grams each are birthed naked and altricial. Living in a colony, females share the task of taking care of the young.

Dominant females accept and tolerate only one adult male as the main breeding partner. The young stay with the females for two years before dispersing to colonies in neighbouring territories. This pattern of dispersal strengthens gene flow and the development of new colonies.

Cape Ground Squirrel Habitat

The Cape ground squirrel occurs on a variety of substrates from rough sands to the soft clay soils of pans and river beds. They inhabit intermittens plains of grass and shrubbery.

Where they are found

The Cape ground squirrel is widely distributed throughout South Africa, and can be found in the Free State, Kalahari, Northern Cape, North West and Southern Cape near the areas of Beaufort-West and Graaff-Reinet.

Field Notes

They are similar in physical appearance and habits to the mountain ground squirrel (xerus princeps). The Cape ground squirrel is fairly common in South Africa, despite being persecuted by farmers.