Atlantoxerus getulusBarbary ground squirrel

Geographic Range

Barbary ground squirrels (Atlantoxerus getulus) are native to northern Africa, with a wide distribution in Morocco and a somewhat smaller distribution in Algeria. In 1965, a pair was introduced to Fuerteventura Island, part of the Canarias archipelago. Upon their introduction, their numbers soared, showing the resiliency of this species. (Lopez-Darias and Nogales, 2008; Masseti, 2005)


Barbary ground squirrels inhabit the Mediterranean and desert regions of northern Africa. They generally live in ground burrows in dry grasslands or rocky terrain in close proximity to water. In mountainous regions they occupy the area between 1,000 and 4,000 feet. Barbary ground squirrels are only known to migrate in times of food scarcity. (Lopez-Darias and Lobo, 2008)

  • Other Habitat Features
  • caves
  • Range elevation
    1000 to 4000 m
    3280.84 to 13123.36 ft

Physical Description

Barbary ground squirrels are generally 160 to 220 mm long, with a bushy tail approximately equal to their body length. They do not often exceed a weight of 340 g. Their back is either grey-brown or red-brown, with white stripes down their sides and a paler grey underbelly. Their tail is barred with black and grey stripes. These small squirrels are endothermic. ("Barbary Ground Squirrel (Atlantoxerus getulus)", 2013)

  • Range mass
    340 (high) g
    11.98 (high) oz
  • Range length
    160 to 220 mm
    6.30 to 8.66 in


Barbary ground squirrels are known to breed from April into July, depending on their elevation. The lower the elevation, the earlier they breed in relation to snowfall. Their breeding season generally lasts a month. Several males often pursue one female. Factors influencing female mate choice and other mating rituals have not been clearly defined, although females often breed twice per season. The degree of mate fidelity between breeding events is also unknown. (Gouat and Yahyaoui, 2001)

Barbary ground squirrels breed seasonally in the spring. The period during which breeding occurs depends on their altitude. In lower elevations where there is much less snow they breed in April, while at higher elevations they breed in July. Their young are precocial, but tend to spend about the first month of their lives with their mother. After having their first batch of young, the mother often breeds again, raising two batches of young at the same time. Other than casual observations regarding the time young are associated with their mother and when males are seen pursuing females, little is known about their reproductive cycle. (Gouat and Yahyaoui, 2001)

  • Breeding interval
    Barbary ground squirrels breed 1 to 2 times in the spring.
  • Breeding season
    These ground squirrels breed from April to July.
  • Average weaning age
    2 weeks
  • Average time to independence
    1 months

After giving birth to live young, females lactate and provide general protection. Females with offspring may share a nest. Their offspring are precocial and generally spend less than a month with their mother. If the female has two batches of offspring in one season, she will continue to provide for both groups. (Gouat and Yahyaoui, 2001)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Almost nothing is known about their life cycle. Records of six wild born specimens held in captivity suggest that these animals survived to be ten or eleven before they disappeared. No more information is available on the subject. ("AnAge entry for Atlantoxerus getulus", 2012)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    10 (high) years


Barbary ground squirrels are diurnal and their behavioral patterns are very attuned to the temperature oscillations of their environment. They maintain a body temperature of 36 to 39°C. They are sensitive to their environment, if their temperature drops below 25°C or exceeds 40.5°C they are at risk of death. They mainly spend their days alternating between foraging for food and burrowing into dry walls or stone heaps to maintain a fairly constant temperature. Barbary ground squirrels do not appear to be a territorial species. Females have even been seen nesting in groups after their offspring are born. (Gouat and Yahyaoui, 2001; Lopez-Darias and Lobo, 2008)

Home Range

Barbary ground squirrels live in small burrows in the sides of mountains and rock heaps. This species does not travel far from their burrow unless food is scarce. (Nogales and Medina, 2009)

Communication and Perception

Barbary ground squirrels live in family groups in their burrows. They communicate with each other by sound. No other forms of communication have been verified. They use their sight and smell to locate food sources. Because they spend a good portion of their day underground in their burrows, they have developed more sensitive sight and more acute hearing for communication. (Lopez-Darias and Lobo, 2008)

Food Habits

Barbary ground squirrels have a very broad diet. In their native habitat they are generally frugivores and insectivores. However, in the Canary Islands they have a much broader diet, they still eat fruits, seeds and insects, but they also feed on breeding birds and snails, both of which are endangered on the islands. (Lopez-Darias, et al., 2008)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • pollen


Barbary ground squirrels are a vastly understudied species, so little is known about their status as a prey species. On the Canary Islands they may be a substantial prey species for feral cats. (Nogales and Medina, 2009)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

In ecosystems where Barbary ground squirrels have been introduced, they serve as an additional seed distributer. They are also a food source for local feral cats. Most ecological research on Barbary ground squirrels has been done in the Canary Islands where they have been introduced and reproduced to the point of being a pest species. (Lopez-Darias and Nogales, 2008; Nogales and Medina, 2009)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Barbary ground squirrels have not been noted as a tool for economic gain to humans in a traditional sense. However, many scientists have gained recognition by looking into the ecological impact of their invasion of the Canary Islands.

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Barbary ground squirrels are an invasive pest species in the Canary Islands, they are known for disrupting normal seed dispersal patterns and crowding out native species that may have possibly provided an economic benefit. (Lopez-Darias and Nogales, 2008)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Barbary ground squirrels are considered a species of 'least concern' by the IUCN Red List. They are a species that exists in high numbers in both their native range and ranges where they have been introduce. They are even considered a pest species and are resilient to habitats affected by human disturbances. (Aulangnier, 2008)


Kacie Roth (author), Northern Michigan University, John Bruggink (editor), Northern Michigan University, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

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


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

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

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


uses touch to communicate


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

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


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


2012. "AnAge entry for Atlantoxerus getulus" (On-line). AnAge: The Animal Aging and Longevity Database. Accessed April 19, 2013 at

2013. "Barbary Ground Squirrel (Atlantoxerus getulus)" (On-line). Accessed March 12, 2012 at

Aulangnier, S. 2008. "Atlantoxerus getulus" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed March 12, 2012 at

Gouat, P., I. Yahyaoui. 2001. Reproductive period and group structure variety in the Barbary ground squirrel Atlantoxerus getulus. Lecture at the University of Paris, 13: 343-352.

Lopez-Darias, M., J. Lobo. 2008. Factors Affecting Invasive Species Abundance: the Barbary Ground Squirrel on Fuerteventura Island, Spain. Zoological Studies, 47: 268-281.

Lopez-Darias, M., J. Lobo, P. Gouat. 2008. Predicting potential distributions of invasive species: the exotic Barbary ground squirrel in the Canarian archipelago and the west Mediterranean region. Biological Invasions, 10: 1027-1040.

Lopez-Darias, M., M. Nogales. 2008. Effects of the invasive Barbary ground squirrel (Atlantoxerus getulus) on seed dispersal systems of insular xeric environments. Journal of Arid Environments, 72: 926-939.

Masseti, M. 2005. Natural and Anthropochorous Squirrels and Dormice of the Mediterranean Region. Hysrix Italian Journal of Mammalogy, 16 (1): 3-26.

Nogales, M., F. Medina. 2009. Trophic ecology of feral cats (Felis silvestrisF. catus) in the main environments of an oceanic archipelago (Canary Islands): An updated approach. Mammalian Biology, 74: 169-181.