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Scientific name

Spermophilus citellus (Linnaeus, 1766)
(sperma = seed, philos = loving; citus = swift, citellus = little swift beast)

Common names:

Bulgarian – suek (evroepeiski laluger)
Czech – sysel obecný
English – European ground squirrel (European souslik)
French – Le Spermophile d'Europe
German – Ziesel (Europäische Ziesel)
Hungarian – ürge
Polish – susel moregowany
Russian – jevropejskij suslik
Serbian – tekunica
Slovak – sysel pasienkový


Order: Rodentia Bowdich, 1821

Family: Sciuridae Ficher de Waldheim, 1817

Subfamily: Xerinae Osborn, 1910

Tribe: Marmotini Pocock, 1923 (Moore, 1959)

Genus: Spermophilus Cuvier, 1825

Subspecies: There are nine subspecies of S. citellus recognized in the area of its distribution.

Description and Measurements:

S. citellus is a stout-bodied species adapted for fully quadrupedal movement and semi-fossorial life. Fore limbs have 4 and hind 5 fingers. A body, a tail and small ears are covered with dense pelage. The pelage of a back is somewhat mottled but not spotted as in S. suslicus. An eye ring, a chin, a throat and a ventral part of the body are light buff even off-white. S. citellus molts once a year between the end of June and beginning of August.

Head and body length: 183 - 237mm; Tail length: 40 - 80mm; Hind foot length: 33-41mm; Ear: 7-10mm
All measurements according to Grulich (1960).

Weight: adults generally: 240 - 340g;

(males before hibernation 254 - 461g, after hibernation 200 - 339g; females before hibernation 269 - 324g, after hibernation 164 - 235g, measurements according to Millesi et. al 1999)

new born juveniles: 4,7 - 6,6g (Ružić 1978)

juveniles at the first emergence (approximately 30 days old): 50 - 70g ( Grulich 1960, Matějů own data)

Karyotype: 2n 40 chromosomes; Autosomes: 2 metacentric, 4 akrocentric, 32 submetacentric; X chromosome: large submetacentric; Y chromosome:the smallest, submetacentric (Zima 1987)


Spermophilus citellus inhabits territory of the middle and south-eastern Europe. Western and northern border of its range lies in the Czech Republic. East about it lives up to western Ukraine, in the south up to Greece and European Turkey (Ružić 1978, Mitchell-Jones et al. 1999) The area of S. citellus distribution is highly fragmented by a number of geographical barriers (rivers, mountain ranges, continuous forest areas etc.), which is the reason for a relatively high number of existing subspecies. Here you can see map of  Spermophilus citellus distribution according IUCN.

Area of S. citellus distribution (according to Görner & Hackethal 1987)

There were some significant changes of the European ground squirrel distribution in middle Europe during the 20th century. First there was an expansion of its range, which occurred during the WW II and culminated in the early fifties (Grulich 1955, 1960). Due to major changes in agriculture and landscape management, which happened in the late fifties and sixties, European ground squirrel has lost the main part of its habitat and its abundance has decreased (Cepáková & Hulová 2002). In the late 1960s European ground squirrel has vanished from Germany and during the 1980s also from Poland (Feiler 1988, Meczynski 1985). In 2007 occurrence of the European ground squirrel was reported only from 34 sites in the Czech Republic (Matějů et al. own data).

Life history:

Breeding: Matting occurs once a ear after emergence (usually March to April). During the end of April and May, after 25 or 26 days long gravidity, females give birth to 1-11 young ones, usually 5-6 (Grulich 1960, Ružić 1978).

Habits: strictly diurnal mammal,



Home range:


Life span:

Habitat: originally short grass steppe, nowadays meadows, pastures, recreational areas (campsites, golf courses), vineyards, road and railway embankments etc.


S. citellus has opportunistic foraging strategy. Its diet consists of both - vegetable and staple food. In long term represent food of the plant origin represents about 80 % of its diet, though consumed amount of staple food can seasonally reach 85 %. The highest rate of food of the animal origin was observed at gravid and lactate females (Danila 1989, Grulich 1960, Ružić 1978).

Predators (according to Grulich 1960):

Mammalian: Mustela nivalis, M. erminea, M. putorius, M. eversmanni, Martes foina, Vormela pergusna, Felis silvestris, F. domestica, Vulpes vulpes

Avian: Falco peregrinus, F. cherug, Buteo buteo, Accipiter gentilis, A. nisus, Aquila heliaca, A. clanga, A. raphax, Milvus migrans, M. milvus, Circus cyaneus, C. aeruginosus, Pica pica, Corvus corone, Otis tarda

Parasites (according to Grulich 1960, Kvičerová in pers. com.):

Ectoparasites - fleas: Citellophilus simplex, C. martinoi, Ctenophthalmus orientalis, C. assimillis, Nesophilla sctosa; - acarids: Hirstionyssus criceti, Haemogamassus citelli, Ixodes laguri

Endoparasites - taenie: Hymenolepis flaterna, Moniliformis moniliformis, - coccidia: Eimeria


European ground squirrel, originally considered as a pest, was in 1988 included in the Red List of endangered vertebrate taxa in former Czechoslovakia as critically endangered (Baruš et al. 1988, ANDĚRA & Červený 2003). European ground squirrel is as a critically endangered species also protected by act on nature conservation and landscape protection n. 114/1992 Code (executive ordinance ME CZ n. 395/1992 Code), against killing, destroying of its habitat and disturbing by human activities.

Here you can access the IUCN account of the European ground squirrel.

Action plan for the European ground squirrel in the Czech Republic

The European ground squirrel is a critically endangered mammal species in the Czech Republic. Its occurrence in Czechia was recorded only at 34 localities in 2007 and its total abundance was estimated at about 3,180 individuals. A first version of an action plan for the European ground squirrel (EGS) in the Czech Republic was prepared in 2005. The main goal of this action plan is to preserve EGS as a free-living animal species in Czechia. The first stage of the action plan is based on six objectives:

  1. to provide proper management at present sites of EGS occurrence
  2. to carry out regular monitoring of EGS populations
  3. to compile a catalogue of localities suitable for EGS repatriation
  4. to test the possibility of captive breeding of EGS and methods of repatriation
  5. to improve current knowledge of EGS ecology (via scientific research)
  6. to raise public awareness.

All these objectives should help to enhance abundance of present EGS populations and establish several sustainable EGS metapopulation systems.

Distribution of the European ground squirrel in Czechia in 2007

Distribution of the European ground squirrel in Czechia in 2007 ( Matějů et al. own data).

More information about the Action plan for the European ground squirrel in the Czech Republic can be found on this web site (in Czech) and here (in English).

Bibliography of the European ground squirrel

International citations of Spermophilus citellus; Originally collected by Ilse E. Hoffmann.

Book of abstracts from the II. European ground squirrel meeting and special issue of the journal Lynx  - Proceedings of the Second European ground squirrel meeting.