Gundis: Ctenodactylidae

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GUNDIS: Ctenodactylidae



Gundis are small rodents with soft, thick, and silky fur. Their fur helps to insulate their bodies from harm due to extreme sun exposure. They have large, blunt heads, flat skulls, and short, round ears. Their very round, large eyes help them to adjust quickly to bright sunlight when they come out of their rock shelters. They have a fringe of hair around the inner margin of their ears that protects the ears from sand that can be easily blown by the wind. Gundis have long vibrissae (stiff hairs that can be found near the nostrils or other parts of the face in many mammals). They also have short legs and short, furry tails. Their back feet are longer than their front feet, each foot having four digits (fingers or toes). On the hind feet, the two inner digits have stiff bristles that serve as a comb for the gundis' fur. The digits also have small, very sharp claws. Gundis have flexible ribcages, which help them squeeze into small spaces.

The color of gundis is anywhere from gray to yellow-red, the underparts usually having a whitish color. The rocks that they live among determine their overall color, because blending into their surroundings serves as protection. Overall, they have the appearance of guinea pigs. Their head and body length is 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters). Their tail length is 0.3 to 2 inches (1 to 6 centimeters), and they can weight up to 6 ounces (171 grams), and the females are larger than the males.


Gundis can be found in northern Africa.


Gundis live in rocky hills, cliffs, and mountains in deserts, sub-deserts, or on the edges of deserts. The rocks that make up their habitat can be of any age, but they cannot be extremely large. Gundis may even be found housed in building sites. Within these living areas, gundis find fissures (long, deep, and narrow openings or cracks), crevices, and caves to use for permanent or temporary shelter. They find ledges, flat rocks, and boulder tops to use for sunbathing. They prefer to live in areas where they can get exposure to the morning, as well as the evening sun. Gundis do not have adaptations for water conservation or temperature control, so they take advantage of the shade and wind in the areas where they live. This helps them to cool off during hot afternoons in the desert.


Gundis are herbivores (plant-eating animals) and mainly eat leaves, stalks, flowers, and plant seeds. They cannot gnaw well, so they mainly eat these softer foods. Food is usually somewhat difficult to find in their habitat, so they have to travel far to find it. Gundis do not store food or reserve fat in their bodies, so their search for nourishment is never-ending. They usually will take food back to their shelter so that they can safely eat.


Gundis are diurnal (mainly active during daytime). They can run quickly when necessary, but they are usually slow, and also shy. When they move, their bodies are very close to the ground; their bellies almost touch the ground. They have rough friction pads on their feet that help them climb rocks and surfaces that are almost vertical. They come out of their shelters during the first light of the day, and they are active for up to five hours after this point. When the hottest part of the day arrives, they rest. Then, for the two to four hours before dusk, they become active again. However, they may not come out of their shelters when it is cold, wet, or windy. It can become very dangerous for gundis when it rains, because the water causes their fur to stick together and expose their skin, which makes them very cold very quickly. In order to retain heat in the winter, they pile on top of one another in their shelters. Their lives basically consist of foraging (wandering in search of food), sunbathing, playing, chasing, and exploring.

Gundis live in colonies, or groups. These colonies have different densities that are related to the food supply and terrain of the region being inhabited. Shelters of the gundis serve the purpose of keeping the heat from the day in the shelter during cold nights as well as staying cool during the day when the weather is hot. Gundis also have communal dunghills.

When gundis encounter predators, animals that hunt them for food, they become immobile, in order to make the predators believe that they are dead. They may also go under rocks in order to escape from predators. When they are excited or alarmed, they thump their feet against the ground. Their predators include snakes, lizards, foxes, jackals, and cats.

When female gundis give birth, there are usually one to three young in a litter. Female gundis typically only have one litter per year. Young are born with all their fur as well as their eyes open and feed on chewed leaves.


Gundis are hunted as food by some North African tribes. They could possibly be harmful to crops and gardens, if there were any near their living areas.


The felou gundi is the only species that is listed as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction, by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), due to a decrease in its range and habitat. The other species are not globally threatened, although they could be threatened locally by human disturbances.


Physical characteristics: Mzab gundis are yellow or brown in color with flat, round ears that are flattened against their heads and do not move. They have powerful limbs and bushy tails. They have rough, friction pads on their feet that help them climb rocks and almost vertical surfaces. These pads can also stand extreme heat. Bristles above their claws help them when they dig through sand and also when grooming themselves. They have long, thick fur to keep them warm during cold winters. The females weigh more than the males, adult males weighing around 6 ounces (171 grams), and adult females weighing around 6.7 ounces (190 grams). Their length, which includes their head and body, is 6 to 10 inches (15 to 26 centimeters). Their tail is about 1.4 inches (3.6 centimeters) long.

Geographic range: Mzab gundis live in the central Sahara Desert in Algeria, northern Niger, northwestern Chad, northeastern Mali, and southwestern Libya.

Habitat: Mzab gundis can be found in rock outcrops in mountainous areas above the Sahara Desert. They live in rock crevices and have many temporary shelters that they use.

Diet: Mzab gundis eat leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds. They sometimes drink water, but they also obtain it just from eating plants.

Behavior and reproduction: Mzab gundis sleep during the night and forage in the early morning. They are active for most of the day, with the exception of when it becomes very hot, which is when they seek out shade. Their main activities are grooming and sunbathing. When they are grooming, a hind leg strokes the body while their other legs provide balance. They do not come out of their shelters when it is cold or wet. They communicate with chirps, but not very often. Even though males of the same and different groups can show aggressive behavior toward one another, Mzab gundis live in family groups that form close ties to one another. This can be seen especially in the fact that females will help out one another during pregnancy and when they are giving birth.

Young are usually born anywhere from March to June. Within an hour of their birth, young are roaming and sunbathing. They weigh around 0.7 ounces (20 grams) and have an adult weight within three months of being born.

If approached by a predator, Mzab gundis lie motionless on their side with their legs stretched out, their mouth half open, and their eyes wide open, so they look like they are dead. They will take flight after about two to three minutes of staying in this position.

Mzab gundis and people: Mzab gundis do not typically interact with people.

Conservation status: Mzab gundis are not globally threatened. ∎



Alderton, David. Rodents of the World. New York: Facts on File, 1996.

Delany, M.J. "Rodents." In Reader's Digest Encyclopedia of Animals, edited by Dr. Harold G. Cogger, et al. Sydney, Australia: Weldon Own Pty Limited, 1993.

Gould, Dr. Edwin, and McKay, Dr. George, eds. Encyclopedia of Mammals, 2nd ed. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1998.

Nowak, Ronald M. "Gundis." In Walker's Mammals of the World, 6th ed. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Web sites:

Myers, P. "Ctenodactylidae." Animal Diversity Web. (accessed on May 22, 2004).