The relative roles of the parasol-like tail and burrow shuttling in thermoregulation of free-ranging Cape ground squirrels, Xerus inauris.
- PubMed: 19041951
As small arid-zone mammals, Cape ground squirrels (Xerus inauris) are unusual in being diurnally active. It is postulated that they remain active during the day by using their parasol-like tails to shade their bodies whilst foraging. However, no studies have continuously measured body temperature to determine the effect of using the tail as a parasol, relative to other thermoregulatory behaviours, such as burrow retreat. We caught four free-ranging Cape ground squirrels (673+/-36 g) and surgically implanted miniature temperature-sensitive data loggers into their abdomens, to record body temperature every 5 min to an accuracy of 0.04 degrees C, before they were released back into their home range and observed for two weeks. Mean daily peak black globe temperature was 41 degrees C, and daily peak body temperature reached 40 degrees C. Ground squirrels raised their tails significantly more often at globe temperatures above 30 degrees C, but raising the tail did not decrease body temperature, nor prevent body temperature rising. Ground squirrels retreated to burrows, at 18 degrees C, significantly more often at high body temperatures and body temperature dropped 1-2 degrees C before re-emergence. We believe that the tail was raised to provide thermal comfort during high solar radiation exposure, and that burrow retreat was employed to dissipate a heat load and remain active diurnally.