Acta Theriologica

, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 121–130 | Cite as

Burrow architecture, family composition and habitat characteristics of the largest social African mole-rat: the giant mole-rat constructs really giant burrow systems

  • Radim Šumbera
  • Vladimír Mazoch
  • Hana Patzenhauerová
  • Matěj Lövy
  • Jan Šklíba
  • Josef Bryja
  • Hynek Burda
Original Paper


Among African mole-rats, the giant mole-rat Fukomys mechowii is the largest social species. Despite several attempts to study a free-living population, information on its biology from natural habitats is very scarce. We mapped two neighbouring burrow systems of the giant mole-rat in a miombo woodland in Zambia. We provide information on the size and kin structure of the respective mole-rat families, architecture of their burrow systems, and characteristics of the food supply and soil around the two mapped and additional ten burrow systems. Both uncovered burrow systems were very large (total lengths, 2,245 and 743 m), making them the largest burrow systems ever mapped. Food resources around the additional ten burrow systems had a clumped distribution (standardized Morisita index of dispersion = 0.526), but a relatively high biomass (298 ± 455 g m−2). This, together with favourable soil conditions even in the advanced dry season (cone resistance, 328 ± 50 N m−2; soil density, 1.36 ± 0.06 g cm−3) indicates relatively hospitable ecological conditions. Both food supply and soil conditions were comparable with the conditions found in a miombo habitat of the solitary silvery mole-rat in Malawi. This suggests that there are no ecological constraints which would preclude the solitary life of a subterranean herbivore from the examined habitat. Microsatellite analysis supported the assumption that giant mole-rats live in monogamous multigenerational families with only one breeding pair of non-related animals and their offspring. The mean family size is consistent with previous findings on this species and comparable to that found in other Fukomys species studied thus far.


Fukomys mechowii Subterranean rodent Burrow system Kin structure Bathyergidae 



We are grateful to the ZAWA and the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources, Forestry Department, for permission to carry our field work in Ndola Hill Forest Reserve in Zambia. We thank Wisdom Musonda, Chuma Simukonda and Wilbroad Chansa for assistance in the organising of permits and access to the study site. We are also thankful to Joseph, Mwanza, Stewart, Newton, Peter, Gifty and Morgan for their help with fieldworks and the Kawalika family for accommodation and hospitability. We are also grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments to the manuscript. This study was funded by GAAV (IAA601410802 and KJB601410826), MSMT (6007665801) and GAJU (032/2008/P and 136/2010/P).


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Copyright information

© Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, Białowieża, Poland 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Radim Šumbera
    • 1
  • Vladimír Mazoch
    • 1
  • Hana Patzenhauerová
    • 2
  • Matěj Lövy
    • 1
  • Jan Šklíba
    • 1
  • Josef Bryja
    • 2
  • Hynek Burda
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of South BohemiaČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Population Biology, Institute of Vertebrate BiologyAcademy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicBrnoCzech Republic
  3. 3.Department of General Zoology, Faculty of BiologyUniversity of Duisburg-EssenEssenGermany

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