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Brief Summary

Comprehensive Description

Distribution

    Distribution
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    The distribution of Ammospermophilus nelsoni is restricted to the floor of the southern San Joaquin Valley, California, the Cuyama and Panoche valleys in San Luis Obispo County, and the Carrizo and Elkhorn Plains of the United States. The species is Nearctic and endemic to the above range.

    Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

Morphology

    Morphology
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Nelson's antelope squirrels have fusiform bodies, small, rounded ears, short legs, and short tails. The dorsal head and neck and the outer surfaces of the legs are a dull yellowish-brown or buffy-tan. The tail has thick fringes of hair and the underside is light grey to white. A distinctive light-colored stripe runs along the side of the body from behind the shoulder to the rump. Males are slightly larger than females, with total length of males ranging from 234 to 267 mm (average 249 mm). Female length ranges from 230 to 256 mm (average 238 mm). Nelson's antelope squirrels have distinct summer and winter pelages, with the autumn or winter pelage being darker than the summer pelage.

    Nelson's antelope squirrels can be distinguished from white-tailed antelope squirrels by its larger size and grey coloring of the pelage. Nelson's antelope squirrels have wider zygomatic arches, more inflated auditory bullae, and larger nasal bones. They also have larger upper incisors and first upper molars.

    Range mass: 142 to 179 g.

    Average mass: 155 g.

    Range length: 230 to 267 mm.

    Average length: 249 mm.

    Average basal metabolic rate: 0.8 cm3.O2/g/hr.

    Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

    Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Habitat

    Habitat
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Nelson's antelope squirrels are found in hot deserts that comprise the Lower Sonoran life zone. Lower Sonoran deserts of North America include areas in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California. Nelson's antelope squirrels are found in arid grasslands and shrub lands. They have been recorded in areas where shrub cover ranges from light to medium density and ranges from xerophytic, alkali desert scrub and annual grassland receiving less than 15 cm annual precipitation, to halophytic, alkali desert scrub and annual grassland receiving 18 to 23 cm of annual precipitation. Nelson's antelope squirrels prefer alkaline, loamy soils from 50 to 1100 meters elevation. Nelson’s antelope squirrels depend on kangaroo rat burrows, so areas they inhabit may be limited to areas with kangaroo rat popuations.

    Range elevation: 50 to 1100 m.

    Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

    Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune

Trophic Strategy

    Trophic Strategy
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Nelson’s antelope squirrels are omnivorous and active foragers. They feed primarily on insects, green vegetation, and seeds, but will sometimes also feed on small vertebrates. With regards to the latter, the San Joaquin antelope squirrel consumes rodents, lizards and members of its own species as carrion. Their diet preferences are largely dependent on the amount of moist vegetation available. With respect to green material, red-stemmed filaree (Erodium cicutarium) and the red brome (Bromus rubens) are preferred. Other food sources include the ephedra, a species of clover and locoweed. When moist food becomes very scarce turpine weed is eaten. A preference for a particular type of insect has not been documented. The San Joaquin squirrel eats seeds only when easily obtainable green material and insects are not available.

    Nelson’s antelope squirrel assumes a distinctive posture while feeding. It squats on its rear limbs with the tail cocked behind the back and holds its food in the forepaws. Its enlarged incisors and abrasive cheek teeth help in breaking down food.

    The Nelson’s ground squirrel does not live near a source of water and so water does not constitute a great part of its diet. It can be inferred that its principal source of moisture is from the vegetation eaten. Although it accepts large amounts of water in laboratory conditions, it can survive for seven months in the shade, without water.

    Animal Foods: reptiles; carrion ; insects

    Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts

    Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

    Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Insectivore , Scavenger ); herbivore (Folivore , Granivore ); omnivore

Associations

    Associations
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Nelson's antelope squirrels are preyed upon by mid-sized predators, and serve as host to varius endoparasites and ectoparasites. They are hosts to cestodes (Hymenopelis citelli), nematodess (Spirura infundibuliformis and Physaloptera spinicauda), and also acanthocephalans (Moniliformes dubius). The ectoparasites they are host to include fleas (Siphonaptera) and ticks (Ixodes). Nelson's antelope squirrels have a symbiotric relationship with kangaroo rats Dipodomys deserti, taking refuge in their burrows. They further impact their habitat by continuing to burrow. Because they are seed collectors, they also disperse seeds in their environment.

    Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; creates habitat

    Mutualist Species:

    • kangaroo rats (Dipodomys deserti)

    Commensal/Parasitic Species:

    • cestodes (Hymenopelis citelli)
    • nematodes (Spirura infundibuliformis)
    • nematodes (Physaloptera spinicauda)
    • acanthocephalans (Moniliformes dubius)
    • fleas (Siphonaptera)
    • ticks (Ixodes)
    Associations
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Nelson's antelope squirrels employ a variety of techniques to guard against predators. The complex burrow systems serve as protection against predators. When emerging from a burrow, they exercise extreme caution and do not exit quickly. They rely on olfaction and use this capability while foraging and fleeing danger. They use characteristic alarm calls to communicate danger and may also rely on the warning calls of birds like horned larks and white-crowned sparrows for detection of predators. Nelson's antelope squirrels use their surroundings while evading predators. They use shrubs and burrows of kangaroo rats as sites of refuge. Their buffy or tan pelage make them difficult to see in their arid habitats. When foraging, these squirrels move close to the ground in a very distinctive manner, by a series of short, rapid jumps. American badgers are the most important predators of these squirrels. They dig into the burrows to prey on young and adults. They are also eaten by coyotes (Canis latrans) and (kit foxes Vulpes macrotis).

    Known Predators:

    • American badgers (Taxidea taxus)
    • coyotes (Canis latrans)
    • kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis)

    Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

Behavior

    Behavior
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    The main senses used by the Nelson's antelope squirrels are hearing and olfaction, but the species also relies on vision and will scan its environment before making the decision to fully exit its burrow. Olfaction is used to detect danger, to find food and to communicate. Nelson's antelope squirrels also twitch their tails rapidly, in fore and aft movements when frightened or excited.

    The Nelson’s antelope squirrel gives out alarm calls, which are indicative of altruistic behavior as it compromises the safety of the individual. These calls are in the form of trills that are low-pitched and are characteristic of antelope squirrels that live in closed habitats. In fact, the call is accomplished by a convulsive motion of its body rather than by vocal stress. The female uses this call to communicate with her family when she is weaning.

    Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic ; chemical

    Perception Channels: tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Life Expectancy

    Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
    provided by AnAge articles
    Observations: Although most of these animals do not live for more than one year in the wild, some may occasionally live for more than 4 years with one individual living 5.7 years (Best et al. 1990). Little is known about their longevity in captivity, though.
    Life Expectancy
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Nelson's antelope squirrels usually live for less than a year in the wild because of high infant and young mortality rates. They have been documented to live for about 4 years in captivity, with the longest captive lifespan being 5.7 years. Adult mortality rate is 80% and the average lifespan is 8 months.

    Range lifespan
    Status: captivity:
    5.7 (high) years.

    Average lifespan
    Status: wild:
    8 months.

    Average lifespan
    Status: captivity:
    4 years.

Reproduction

    Reproduction
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Nelson's antelope squirrels have a promiscuous mating system in which females and males mate with multiple partners. Not much is known about specific mating behaviors, but an interesting observation was made regarding mate searching behavior. Mates are typically found within the home range, but there have been instances of females travelling up to 1 km from their home range in search of a mate. Mate guarding and mate defense have not been observed in Nelson's antelope squirrels.

    Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

    The breeding season of Nelson's antelope squirrels extends from late winter to early spring and this species breeds once annually. Males achieve reproductive maturity earlier than females. Brood size varies from 6 to 11 young; with the average being 9. The average gestation period is 26 days. Females give birth to offspring in burrows. The young come above ground approximately on the 30th day after birth. Weaning can start or be completed before the young emerge from their burrow, but this is highly variable. Females wean the young by refusing to nurse and visiting the burrow less frequently.

    Breeding interval: Nelson's antelope squirrels breed once annually.

    Breeding season: Nelson's antelope squirrels breed from late winter to early spring.

    Range number of offspring: 6 to 11.

    Average number of offspring: 9.

    Range gestation period: 25 to 30 days.

    Average gestation period: 26 days.

    Range weaning age: 30 (high) days.

    Average weaning age: 15 days.

    Range time to independence: 3 to 4 weeks.

    Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 377 days.

    Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 377 days.

    Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous

    Nelson's antelope squirrel young are born in an altricial state. Males do not play a large role in caring for the young, as females perform all activities of nursing and weaning. When weaning, the female distances herself from the young and does not respond even when young make attempts to nurse. The female maintains contact with the young by visiting them sometimes or by just using calls to communicate. In captivity, at times when foraging opportunities were limited, instances of cannibalism have been observed.

    Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

Conservation Status

    Conservation Status
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Nelson’s, or San Joaquin, antelope squirrels are classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List. According to the California Department of Fish and Game, the biggest threat to Nelson’s antelope squirrels is habitat destruction due to crop cultivation and urbanization. Excessive grazing by livestock affects these squirrels and also causes soil erosion. Uses of rodenticides and insecticides, which destroy prey populations, negatively impact Nelson’s antelope squirrels. The Endangered Species Recovery Program (2006) of California has suggested a list of conservation measures that stress the importance of land use practices and management strategies. A detailed conservation program for San Joaquin antelope squirrels includes determining habitat management, protecting additional habitat in surrounding areas of the squirrel’s range, habitat enhancement in areas like Kern County, and reintroduction to protected areas, such as Pixley National Wildlife Refuge.

    US Federal List: no special status

    CITES: no special status

    State of Michigan List: no special status

Benefits

    Benefits
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    In laboratory conditions, Nelson's antelope squirrels have been positive for western equine encephalomyelitis, St. Louis encephalitis, Powassan virus, and Modoc virus. However, there is no documented instance their role in spreading disease to humans or domestic animals.

    Benefits
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Nelson’s antelope squirrels do not generally live close to human settlements. They may contribute to controlling insect populations by eating them and they may help to disperse the seeds they gather and store.

Other Articles

    Untitled
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    The genus Ammospermophilus has a rich fossil record. Its divergence can be dated to the Miocene as post-Pleistocene fossils resembling Nelson’s antelope squirrels have been found near Kern County, California. They are thought to have invaded the area over the passes of southern Sierra Nevada and Tehachapi mountains. Due to the change in the moisture levels to less arid conditions in the corridor between Mojave Desert and San Joaquin valley, Nelson’s antelope squirrels became restricted to the San Joaquin valley.