European Ground Squirrel

Spermophilus citellus

From economic pest to endangered species. "In the first years following World War II., the European Ground Squirrel together with the Common Vole were responsible for a lot of demage in our renewing national economy. The fight against pests was not bringing expected results....." (Grulich, 1960).

The European Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus citellus) is a living proof of how instable the fate of an animal species can be.

At the turn of the 1940s and 1950s European Ground Squirrel commonly occurred on grassy balks, in vegetation of crops (cereals, snail clover), on meadows and pastures, and was considered an economic pest. Approximately 40 years later, in accordance with Regulation 48 of the Act No 114/1992, was the European Ground Squirrel proclaimed an especially protected animal species by Ordinance 395/1992 of the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic, and was, based on the degree of threat, classified into the category of critically - that means the most - endangered species. The reasons for gradual disappearance of the European Ground Squirrel from our nature are not completely understood, but the decrease in abundance is being contributed to changes in landscape and ways of farming that were initiated by collectivization of agriculture in the 1950s.

It is assumed that the European Ground Squirrel has spread into our country from the steppes of south-eastern Europe and Asia. It is therefore a steppe species, from which also result ecological requirements of this rodent. The limiting factor for existence of ground squirrel colonies is a short grass vegetation, which allows for visual contact with other members of the colony and most of all gives the rodents a possibility to notice an approaching predator.

The European Ground Squirrel is an important species of original steppe ecosystems. The existence of some other species is bound to the occurrence of European Ground Squirrel. For example, this rodent is an important prey for the pole-cat, and its excrements are used by certain coprophagous beetles for their ontogenesis.

Since most current ground squirrel colonies in the country are of very small numbers and are threatened with destruction, the Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic (NCA CR) has initiated preparation of an Action Plan for the species in the Czech Republic. The main goal of the Action Plan is to conserve European Ground Squirrel as a wild species in the Czech Republic.

Photo: K. Svašek.


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