Adaptive variation of pelage color within and between species of the subterranean mole rat (Spalax ehrenbergi) in Israel

Giora Heth, Avigdor Beiles, Eviatar Nevo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Color notations of dorsal pelage were analyzed in 451 adult subterranean mole rats, comprising 19 populations and 4 chromosomal species (2 n=52, 54, 58 and 60) of the Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies in Israel. In addition, the color notations of soil samples from the collection sites were measured. In an attempt to evaluate the degree of correlation between pelage color of mole rats and the local soil color, each color was compared both macro- and microgeographically. The macrogeographic comparisons were among populations of the 4 chromosomal species, and the microgeographic comparisons were among pairs of geographically neighboring subpopulations which occur under similar climatic conditions but differ in soil type and color. The results indicate that 1. no differences in pelage color notation exist between the sexes; 2. pelage of mole rats is generally characterized by an over-all grayish color, but its shades vary regionally and locally in accordance with varying soil color; 3. a positive correlation was found between pelage and local soil colors in the macrogeographic analysis and this correlation was verified in a microgeographic comparison; 4. specimens from populations of the northern chromosomal species (2 n=52, 54) mainly inhabit terra rossa and basalt soils, respectively, with reddish brown tones, and they tend to have a more reddish shade, whereas animals from the central species (2 n=58), which inhabits mainly dark soils including alluvial clays, terra rossa and brown rendzina and the souther species 2 n=60, which occurs mainly in light soil types such as pale rendzina, sandy loams and loess, tend to have a more yellowish shade. The general appearance of specimens from 2 n=58 was dark gray while that of 2 n=60 specimens was light gray; 5. mole rats living in xeric environments (particularly 2 n=60, but also 2 n=54) are lighter than those which live in mesic environments (2 n=52, 58). The results support the conclusion that pelage color of strictly subterranean mole rats is subject to selection pressures of overground predation of disharmonious types with their background soil color. The possibility that the pelage color variation and patterns also contributes to better thermoregulation while mole rats are above ground is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)617-622
Number of pages6
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1988


  • Adaptive variation
  • Differential predation
  • Pelage color
  • Spalax ehrenbergi
  • Subterranean mammals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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