Online Encyclopedia

SOUSLIK, or SUSLIK

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 463 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SOUSLIK, or SUSLIK, the vernacular name of a European bur-rowing rodent mammal, nearly allied to the marmots, but of much smaller size and of more slender and squirrel-like build (see RODENTIA). The species, Spermophilus (or Citillus) citillus, is rather smaller than an ordinary squirrel, with minute ears, and the tail reduced to a stump of less than an inch in length. The general colour of the upper parts is yellowish grey, with or without a rusty tinge, which is, however, always notice-able on the head; while the underparts are lighter. The range of this species embraces south-east Europe, from southern Germany, Austria and Hungary to the south of Russia. Farther east it is replaced by more or less nearly allied species; while other species extend the range of the genus across central and northern Asia, and thence, on the other side of Bering Strait, all through North America, where these rodents are commonly known as gophers. Many of the species have medium or even long tails, while some are nearly double the size of the typical representative of the group. All, however, have large cheek-pouches, whence the name of pouched marmots, by which they are sometimes called; and they have the first front-toe rudimentary, as in marmots. They are divided into several subgeneric groups. One of the most striking American species is the striped gopher, S. (Ictidomys) tridecemlineatus, which is marked on each side with seven yellow stripes, between which are rows of yellow spots on a dark ground. The common souslik lives in dry, treeless plains, especially on sandy or clayey soil, and is never found either in forests or on swampy ground. It forms burrows, often 6 or 8 ft. deep, in which food is stored up and the winter sleep takes place. Each burrow has but one entrance, which is closed up when winter approaches; a second hole, however, being previously driven from the sleeping place to within a short distance of the surface of the ground. This second hole is opened the next year, and used as the ordinary entrance, so that the number of closed up holes round a burrow gives an indication of the length of time that it has been occupied. Sousliks feed on roots, seeds and berries, and occasionally on animal food, preying on eggs, small birds and mice. They bring forth in the spring from four to eight young ones, which, if taken early, may be easily tamed. Sousliks are eaten by the inhabitants of the Russian steppes, who consider their flesh an especial delicacy. (R. L.*)
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