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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 3.2 years (captivity) Observations: Record longevity in captivity is 3.2 years (Richard Weigl 2005). Used as a biomedical model of nutritionally-induced diabetes type 2 and obesity.
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Reproduction

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Little information on the mating systems of P. obesus is available. However, the fact that dominant male home ranges are large, encompassing home ranges of several females, suggests that these males will mate with the multiple females within their home range.

Mating System: polygynous

In the wild, P. obesus is born between December and April. In captivity they can breed year round. The breeding season is dependent on the availability of food and, therefore, on the amount of rainfall. In times of drought or little rainfall, breeding has been known to stop almost completely. Gestation lasts 24 days. Litter size of ranges from 1 to 7 young. The young are born hairless, opening their eyes after one week, with weaning occurring after three weeks. Young are independent upon weaning. Females can conceive after 3 to 3.5 months of age while sexual maturity for males is reached at 4 months. Because of their short lifespan in the wild, P. obesus individuals only breed for one season, however they can give birth 2 to 4 times per season.

Breeding interval: Fat sand rats can breed 2 to 4 times per season.

Breeding season: Fat sand rats breed between December and April.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 7.

Range gestation period: 24 to 36 days.

Average weaning age: 3 weeks.

Average time to independence: 3 weeks.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 4 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous ; post-partum estrous

Average birth mass: 6.25 g.

Average number of offspring: 3.5.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female:
100 days.

Only female fat sand rats take care of the young. Young are nursed and cared for by their mother in her den until soon before they are weaned and become independent.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Behavior

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Psammomys obesus communicate with each other using high-pitched squeaks and foot drumming. It is unknown what kinds of communications these are, though the sounds may be used to warn against predators. Fat sand rats probably also use olfactory cues extensively to communicate home range boundaries and reproductive state.

Fat sand rats have keen senses of smell, vision, and hearing. Touch can be an important way of sensing the environment and communicating with conspecifics.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Conservation Status

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Psammomy obesus does not appear to be a threatened or endangered species.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Benefits

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Fat sand rats are known to be carriers of the parasitic disease Leishmaniasis. This disease can be transferred to humans from P. obesus by the sand fly Phlebotomus.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (causes disease in humans )

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Benefits

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Psammomys obesus can easily acquire non insulin dependent diabetes mellitus and the complications associated with diabetes (cataracts, pancreatic atrophy, and impaired renal function) from high caloric foods such as laboratory rodent pellets. For this reason, fat sand rats are used as a model species to study diabetic mellitus and its complications.

Positive Impacts: research and education

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Associations

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Because fat sand rats live under and eat the leaves of Chenopodiaceae species, they may have an impact on the populations of these bushes. However, this has not been documented. Fat sand rats are an important prey base for small to medium-sized predators in the ecosystems in which they live.

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Trophic Strategy

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Fat sand rats feed on the leaves of succulent plants, particularly salt bushes of the Chenopodiaceae family. Because these plants contain mostly water and salt, large amounts of leaves must be ingested in order to get enough nutrients. They can survive eating the salty plants without an abundance of water because they have extremely efficient kidneys that can excrete highly concentrated urine (about 18 times as concentrated as humans). Fat sand rats have also been known to eat grains such as barley.

Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Distribution

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Psammomys obesus, the fat sand rat, is found in North Africa, ranging from Mauritania to Egypt and Sudan, and east across the Arabian Peninsula.

Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Habitat

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Fat sand rats are terrestrial mammals that are most often found in sandy deserts, but can be found in rocky terrain, saline-marsh areas, and loess plains. They live in burrows composed of large mouthed holes which are located near and under the bushes where they forage.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune

Wetlands: marsh

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Life Expectancy

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The lifespan of P. obesus in the wild is about 14 months while those in captivity can live between three and four years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
14 months.

Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
3-4 years.

Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
3.2 years.

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Morphology

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The head and body length of P. obesus is 130 to 185mm, while the tail length is 110 to 150mm. Males weigh between 125 and 208g and females weigh between 146 and 207g. Psammomys obesus are heavily built, rat-like gerbils with fully haired and tufted tails. The tuft of hair on the end of the tail measures about 14mm. They have large, black eyes, robust limbs, and heavy feet with black 4 to 5mm claws. The skin is also black, most likely to protect them from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The features used distinguish P. obesus are their nongrooved incisors and their very short, round ears.

Dorsal fur varies from light-brown to red to yellow and is speckled with black. The underbelly is a grayish/white, with the area under the chin slightly whiter than the rest of the ventral surface. The last third of the tail is black, including the tuft, while the underside is whitish.

Sexual dimorphism has not been noted in P. obesus.

Range mass: 125 to 208 g.

Range length: 130 to 185 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Associations

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Fat sand rats are preyed upon by many small predators, such as snakes, including those in the genus Spalerosophis, owls, other birds of prey, and jackals (Canis aureus). They escape predation through their vigilance, taking refuge in burrows, and through their cryptic coloration.

Known Predators:

  • diadem snakes (Spalerosophis)
  • raptors (Falconiformes)
  • owls (Strigiformes)
  • golden jackals (Canis aureus)

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Biagi, T. 2004. "Psammomys obesus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammomys_obesus.html
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Tara Biagi, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Distribution in Egypt

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Narrow (northern Western and Eastern Deserts, North Sinai).

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Status in Egypt

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Native, resident.

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Fat sand rat

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The fat sand rat (Psammomys obesus) is a terrestrial mammal from the gerbil subfamily that is mostly found in North Africa and the Middle East, ranging from Mauritania to the Arabian Peninsula.[2] This species usually lives in sandy deserts, but may also be found in rocky terrain or saline marsh areas[3]. Fat sand rats are very selective in their diet, only eating stems and leaves of plants from the family Amaranthaceae, more commonly known as the amaranth family.[4] The fat sand rat acquired its name due to the fact that when it is fed a typical rodent diet, it quickly becomes obese and develops diabetes.[5][6] P. obesus has an average lifespan of 14 months in the wild and 3-4 years in captivity.[7]

Ecology

 src=
Skull of a sand rat

Activity Patterns

The fat sand rat is diurnal, but its activity on the surface fluctuates depending on the ambient temperature.[8] Its period of activity is shortest in the summer, starting in the early morning and finishing an hour to several hours after.[8] As the year progresses and the temperature becomes colder, the fat sand rat is active for a longer amount of time during the day, and the time at which daily activity is initiated is delayed.[8] Upon emerging from their burrows, individuals spend a part of the beginning of their day sunbathing, engaging in other activities such as foraging afterwards.[8][9]

Individuals with greater body masses have been found to forage for longer periods of time than those with a smaller body mass.[10] When foraging, a fat sand rat will cut pieces away from plants and bring them back to their burrows, where they either eat the plant in the burrow or around the entrance, or store the plant for later consumption, which is called hoarding.[9] The most common way that fat sand rats acquire water in the desert environment is by ingesting plants such as Atriplex halimus, which are high in water content and provide the rodent with preformed water when they are consumed.[11] As a result of this strategy, fat sand rats do not need to drink free standing water.[12]

Aside from foraging, the fat sand rat also spends time outside the burrow exploring.[13] It is atypical in its exploratory behaviour since when it encounters a novel environment it exhibits perimeter patrolling behaviours, moving in straight lines along the border of an environment, rather than engaging in looping or home base behaviours usually displayed by rodents.[13] Males also spend more time exploring an area than females.[9]

Sociality

Fat sand rats are not social animals, they live in separate burrows with males occupying larger ranges of space than females.[9][14] Typically, members of the same sex actively avoid interacting, but when females do encounter each other they engage in aggressive behaviours, and will attack each other.[9] Males can interact in an aggressive manner towards each other, pushing or displaying sideways postures, but the majority of their interactions are peaceful.[9] Members of opposite sexes usually only interact with each other for copulation.[15] Aside from copulation, the type of interaction that results between males and females differs depending on which individual approaches the other.[9] When males approach females, the fat sand rats tend to interact in an agonistic manner, and display many different behaviours, some of which include sidling, displaying sideways postures, pushing, upright boxing, and attacking each other.[9][14] When females initiate the interactions and approach a male, agonistic encounters also occur as with male initiated interactions, but peaceful interactions where animals will sniff, investigate, follow, and groom each other are much more common.[9]

Habitat Selection

Fat sand rats dig burrows with multiple entrances directly under plants they consume, primarily selecting burrowing sites based on the abundance of Amaranthaceae shrubs in the area over any other factor such as cover.[4][16] As such, their preferred type of habitat, and the distribution of fat sand rats in a particular habitat changes throughout the year in response to the different growing season of plants in the wadi beds or terraces that they inhabit.[17] Wadi beds are typically populated with Amaranthaceae shrubs, and have dense vegetative cover, while terraces are very sparsely vegetated, leaving the habitat exposed.[12] Distribution of the fat sand rat in a particular habitat is also influenced by the abundance of rainfall in the area, as well as the population density of the site from the previous season.[18] During the winter, fat sand rats prefer the wadi habitat as a result of the vegetative growth during this time, but after a wet autumn more individuals will burrow in a terrace habitat even when population density is low, as opposed to after a dry autumn when individuals only burrow in terrace habitats when the population density is high.[17]

The burrowing activities of the rodents can impact their habitat, affecting the bacteria in the soil around their burrows such that nitrogen fixation and denitrification activity are decreased.[19] The fat sand rat also disturbs vegetation cover while burrowing, further altering its environment.[20] Mounds of active burrows have significantly less percent cover from vegetation than abandoned burrows and undisturbed land near abandoned burrows.[20]

Anti-predator Behaviour

Fat sand rats are preyed upon by many desert species, including several kinds of avian predators, snakes, desert cats, and members of the family Mustelidae.[21] Depending on the type of habitat they have burrowed in, they are exposed to different risks concerning predation.[12] In response to the threat of predation they employ anti-predator vigilance behaviour when above ground, and will stop what they are doing to take an upright posture and survey the area or look intently in one direction.[12] In addition to this posture, the rodents will thump their foot loudly and squeak before retreating into their burrow when frightened.[15] There appears to be no reaction from other nearby individuals in response to this behaviour so there may be no benefit in terms of warning conspecifics of predators in performing the foot thumping.[15]

Fat sand rats in the terrace habitat spend significantly more time engaging in this vigilance behaviour when they are above ground than individuals living in the wadi beds, but the behaviour is not costly in that it does not interrupt their foraging, as both groups spend equivalent amounts of time foraging.[12] However, there is a difference in foraging behaviour between the two groups as fat sand rats living in terraces tend to hoard their food more often than those living in wadi beds, and take less time to eat as well.[12] The sociality of the fat sand rat may also have an impact on their antipredator behaviours, as they have been shown to spend less time foraging and feeding, and initiate vigilance behaviour more frequently when compared to a more social desert rodent.[21]

Reproduction

The fat sand rat breeds from autumn to early spring and produces litters usually consisting of one to eight pups, with average litter sizes increasing over the course of the breeding season.[2][22][23] When mothers start lactating, their body energy increases but towards the end of the lactation period they begin to utilize stored energy instead of increasing body energy, resulting in a decrease in body mass.[24] The growth rate of pups is maximized when the litter is small and the mother eats plants with a higher water content.[23] The young disperse from their mother at about 5 weeks of age.[14]

The sexual activity of male fat sand rats is not affected by weather conditions, however there is a correlation between rainfall and the sexual activity of females, with more females being sexually active as the amount of rainfall increases.[2] Reproductive strategies differ between the sexes, with females utilizing smaller ranges of space around their burrow with adequate food resources to provide for their young.[9] Meanwhile, males occupy larger home ranges that overlap with multiple female ranges, creating the potential to mate with several females.[9] Females initiate copulation, and have stereotypical behaviours for approaching males, squealing and turning to dig in and kick sand towards the male.[15] After this display, the female will exhibit lordosis, and the male will mount the female over a series of copulations.[9][15] Often times, a female will lose interest quickly, and will threaten or act aggressively towards the male between mounts.[9][15]

 src=
Fat sand rat eating Atriplex halimus, Israel

Medical significance

Although they remain lean when fed their natural, vegetable-based diet, fat sand rats can easily become obese and acquire type 2 diabetes mellitus when they are fed a normal rodent diet of grains.[5][6][25] Therefore, they have been used as an animal model for studies on diabetes and obesity. Sequencing of the complete nuclear DNA genome of Psammomys obesus showed that the Pdx1 homeobox gene, a transcriptional activator of insulin, has undergone massive nucleotide change, likely contributing to diabetes and adaptation to low caloric intake.[26]

Because they are diurnal, fat sand rats are also used as models for human seasonal affective disorder.[27]

The presence of fat sand rats in North Africa and the Middle East is of healthcare importance. Leishmania kDNA has been discovered in this rodent using molecular studies, suggesting the species can host the parasite that causes leishmaniasis in humans.[28]

These animals have been studied extensively for their remarkably efficient kidneys: they can produce very concentrated urine which enables them to eat halophyte plants and survive extreme heat and lack of water in their desert habitat.[29]

References

  1. ^ S. Aulagnier & L. Granjon (2008). "Psammomys obesus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2008. Retrieved May 20, 2012.old-form url
  2. ^ a b c Fichet-Calvet, E.; Jomâa, I.; Ismail, R. Ben; Ashford, R. W. (1999). "Reproduction and abundance of the fat sand rat (Psammomys obesus) in relation to weather conditions in Tunisia". Journal of Zoology. 248: 15–26. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.1999.tb01018.x.
  3. ^ Biagi, Tara. "Psammomys obesus (fat sand rat)". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  4. ^ a b Daly, M.; Daly, S. (1973). "On the feeding ecology of Psamommys obesus (Rodentia, Gerbillidae) in the Wadi Saoura, Algeria" (PDF). Mammalia. 37: 545–561. doi:10.1515/mamm.1973.37.4.545.
  5. ^ a b Hackel, D. B.; Frohman, L; Mikat, E; Lebovitz, H. E.; Schmidt-Nielsen, K; Kinney, T. D. (1966). "Effect of diet on the glucose tolerance and plasma insulin levels of the fat sand rat (Psammomys obesus)". Diabetes. 15 (2): 105–14. doi:10.2337/diab.15.2.105. PMID 5907154.
  6. ^ a b Kaiser, N; Cerasi, E; Leibowitz, G (2012). "Diet-Induced Diabetes in the Fat sand Rat (Psammomys obesus)". Animal Models in Diabetes Research. Methods in Molecular Biology. 933. pp. 89–102. doi:10.1007/978-1-62703-068-7_7. ISBN 978-1-62703-067-0. PMID 22893403.
  7. ^ Biagi, Tara. "Psammomys obesus (fat sand rat)". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  8. ^ a b c d Ilan, Micha; Yom-Tov, Yoram (1990). "Diel Activity Pattern of a Diurnal Desert Rodent, Psammomys obesus". Journal of Mammalogy. 71 (1): 66–69. Bibcode:2007JMamm..88..275L. doi:10.2307/1381317. JSTOR 1381317.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Gromov, Vladimir (2001). "Daytime activities and social interactions in a colony of the fat sand rats, Psammomys obesus, at the Negev Highlands, Israel". Mammalia. 65: 13–28. doi:10.1515/mamm.2001.65.1.13.
  10. ^ Haim, A.; Alma, A.; Neuman, A. (2006). "Body mass is a thermoregulatory adaptation of diurnal rodents to the desert environment". Journal of Thermal Biology. 31 (1–2): 168–171. doi:10.1016/j.jtherbio.2005.11.016. ISSN 0306-4565.
  11. ^ Kam, Michael; Degen, A. Allan (1989). "Efficiency of Use of Saltbush (Atriplex halimus) for Growth by Fat Sand Rats (Psammomys obesus)". Journal of Mammalogy. 70 (3): 485–493. Bibcode:2007JMamm..88..275L. doi:10.2307/1381420. JSTOR 1381420.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Tchabovsky, A. V.; Krasnov, B.; Khokhlova, I. S.; Shenbrot, G. I. (2001). "The effect of vegetation cover on vigilance and foraging tactics in the fat sand rat Psammomys obesus". Journal of Ethology. 19 (2): 105–113. doi:10.1007/s101640170006. ISSN 0289-0771.
  13. ^ a b Avni, Reut; Eilam, David (2007). "On the border: perimeter patrolling as a transitional exploratory phase in a diurnal rodent, the fat sand rat (Psammomys obesus)". Animal Cognition. 11 (2): 311–318. doi:10.1007/s10071-007-0119-y. ISSN 1435-9448. PMID 17972119.
  14. ^ a b c Gromov, V. S. (2007). "Spatial ethological structure and evolution of sociality in rodents". Doklady Biological Sciences. 412 (1): 46–48. doi:10.1134/s0012496607010152. ISSN 0012-4966.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Daly, Martin; Daly, Sandra (1975). "Behavior of Psammomys obesus (Rodents: Gerbillinae) in the Algerian Sahara". Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie. 37 (3): 298–321. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1975.tb00882.x. ISSN 0044-3573.
  16. ^ Tchabovsky, A. V.; Krasnov, B. R. (2002). "Spatial distribution of Psammomys obesus (Rodentia, Gerbillinae) in relation to vegetation in the Negev desert of Israel". Mammalia. 66: 361–368. doi:10.1515/mamm.2002.66.3.361.
  17. ^ a b Shenbrot, Georgy (2004). "Habitat Selection in a Seasonally Variable Environment: Test of the Isodar Theory with the Fat Sand Rat, Psammomys obesus, in the Negev Desert, Israel". Oikos. 106 (2): 359–365. doi:10.1111/j.0030-1299.2004.13123.x. JSTOR 3548120.
  18. ^ Shenbrot, Georgy; Krasnov, Boris; Burdelov, Sergei (2010). "Long-term study of population dynamics and habitat selection of rodents in the Negev Desert". Journal of Mammalogy. 91 (4): 776–786. doi:10.1644/09-MAMM-S-162.1. JSTOR 40925629.
  19. ^ Kuznetsova, Tatyana A.; Kam, Michael; Khokhlova, Irina S.; Kostina, Natalia V.; Dobrovolskaya, Tatiana G.; Umarov, Marat M.; Degen, A. Allan; Shenbrot, Gregory I.; Krasnov, Boris R. (2013). "Desert Gerbils Affect Bacterial Composition of Soil". Microbial Ecology. 66 (4): 940–949. doi:10.1007/s00248-013-0263-7. PMID 23857378.
  20. ^ a b El-Bana, M.I. (2009). "Effects of the abandonment of the burrowing mounds of fat sand rat (Psammomys obesus cretzschamar 1828) on vegetation and soil surface attributes along the coastal dunes of North Sinai, Egypt". Journal of Arid Environments. 73 (9): 821–827. Bibcode:2009JArEn..73..821E. doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2009.03.006. ISSN 0140-1963.
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Fat sand rat: Brief Summary

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The fat sand rat (Psammomys obesus) is a terrestrial mammal from the gerbil subfamily that is mostly found in North Africa and the Middle East, ranging from Mauritania to the Arabian Peninsula. This species usually lives in sandy deserts, but may also be found in rocky terrain or saline marsh areas. Fat sand rats are very selective in their diet, only eating stems and leaves of plants from the family Amaranthaceae, more commonly known as the amaranth family. The fat sand rat acquired its name due to the fact that when it is fed a typical rodent diet, it quickly becomes obese and develops diabetes. P. obesus has an average lifespan of 14 months in the wild and 3-4 years in captivity.

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