Steppe Lemmings

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The STEPPE LEMMING

(Lagurus lagurus)

By Heritage Pets

The Steppe Lemming, (Lagurus lagurus), is light grayish/brown overall. Their backs should be of light grayish brown colour accentuated by a prominent black dorsal stripe in the center of it and the belly is off white. It is rather a petite, stout rodent that is like a lemming, but is not in the genus Lemmus, unlike the Norway Lemming (Lemmus lemmus). Head, body and tail, it is 87 to 140 mm long and weighs 25-35g whereas the Norway lemming is 118-161mm long and can weigh between 40-112 grams.

 

The Steppe Lemming is incorrectly referred to as the Sagebrush Vole. This can be misleading as the term Sagebrush Vole refers to the American Lemmiscus curtatus. The two species are very similar in appearance. The Steppe Lemming Lagurus lagurus has smaller ears and a tail that is shorter than the hind foot. The true Sagebrush Vole is believed to be more closely related to the meadow voles of the genus Microtus.

 

In the wild, a Steppe lemming eats shoots and leaves, seed when available and on occasion may take the odd insect or two. It is usually more active at night, but it is not considered truly nocturnal. They are often active throughout the day, at 2-4 hour intervals and are considered to be diurnal.  In the wild they can be found, in Russia and the Ukraine, in the steppes and in semi-arid environments throughout the regions as far west as Mongolia & Northwestern China. 

 

In Europe, the Steppe Lemming is probably one of the most common kept variety of lemmings but in Canada and America, these animals are still considered quite a rarity. When compared to the common pet store variety of hamster or gerbil, they are very unique.  They are small, easy to maintain, they do not hibernate, easy to tame, trustworthy and quite handle-able. Rarely do they bite and when they do, its bite is feeble; usually it is they do not have ample enough pressure to cause a break the skin. When properly maintained they do not have an unpleasant odor. They are usually friendly, inquisitive and easy to handle. They are quick to investigate any disturbance within the tank and usually show little fear towards humans.

 

When housed properly and fed a proper diet, in captivity, they can live close to 2 years. Because not a lot is known about Steppe lemmings they are often unintentionally mistreated. They need at least a 10- 15 gallon tank and it is best to house them in a colony set up. Pet store variety hamster cages are not suitable for lemmings. They are escape artists and because of their diminutive size quite often they escape through the wires on the cages of the prefab cages. 

 

The Steppe Lemming is social by nature. It should never be housed alone. It is best to keep between 3 to 8 Steppe Lemmings in one suitable cage or aquarium with no more than 1 male for every 2 or 3 females. They are colonial breeders and sometimes after a few months if there are too many housed together in the same aquarium they may become hostile to each other. Mainly the Alpha male will start to defend the group by attacking the subordinate members of the colony, (usually the males).

 

If there is only one nesting area or if you provide tubes for your Steppe Lemmings it is important to have two or more exists which will help members of the herd escape the wrath of other more dominant group members. Under ideal conditions,  other than short lived squabbles, Steppe Lemming rarely fight but when they do conduct battle, it usually indicates that the group has grown too large and that it is time to separate the group.  Never add a new Lemming to an established colony. All lemmings are territorial and will attack any new-comers and after killing the new-comers, or even when you manage to remove the newcomer, the group will turn on one another. These fights are brutal and often end in death.

 

If for any reason you need to introduce lemmings from different groups, this needs to be done on neutral ground, while they are newly weaned and not yet sexually mature. Putting two unfamiliar animals together must only be done under careful supervision.

 

Steppe Lemmings are normally quiet. On occasion they will emit a high-pitched squeak when they become alarmed or when they are squabbling. One can often hear little squeaks from babies in the nest.

 

Steppe Lemmings fail to survive for more than a few months when fed on small animal mixtures. In the wild they survive on a diet of roots, grasses and sedges, plant tubers, bulbs, green vegetation, and a small amount of seeds. Insects are taken occasionally. The species is sugar-intolerant and prone to diabetes therefore they must not be given any fruit, vegetables, or treats (i.e. honey sticks etc.) that have high sugar content. Sugar-rich fruits such as apples and citrus fruits must never be offered even as a treat.  I feed, guinea pig food containing alfalfa, a small quantity of millet seeds, (budgie seeds) millet sprays, fresh grass and Timothy hay.   Steppe Lemmings, consume impressive amounts of food. They normally do not store food but on occasion you will find individuals that take small amounts into their burrows. Because their molar teeth grow continuously, small willow branches, Popsicle sticks or twigs made of tough grasses should be provided for gnawing. Many pet stores offer packaged chew sticks and as long as they are natural they should be fine too.

 

Clean, fresh drinking water must be available at all times! Although they will drink it from a bowl, it is best to provide them with a small hamster/mouse size water bottle which helps eliminate their bedding from contaminating their water.

 

The tank should be filled to a depth of not less than 20 cm, with a combination of aspen wood shavings, and covered with a substantial layer of hay, which is used to line their nest, and also as a food source. Their bedding must not be allowed to become damp as Steppe Lemmings are susceptible respiratory ailments. Plastic tubes and a small mouse size wheel should be provided for exercise. Pet stores offer small wheels that attach to the sides of aquariums which help make it less likely for the wheel to get clogged with bedding material.

Steppe lemmings benefit from open air but their environment should be kept away from open windows to prevent drafts and they must be kept out of out of direct sunlight.

 

Depending on the size of the tank and how many individuals are housed within it, their tank needs regular maintenance, to prevent build up; the tank, toys, water and food dishes should be completely changed and disinfected on a regular basis. It is recommended that antibacterial soap be used to wash everything; then be sure to thoroughly rinse and thoroughly dry everything before replacing any accessories back into the tank. Discard all old bedding and wooden chew toys and replace with new.

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The tank should be filled to a depth of not less than 20 cm, with a combination of aspen wood shavings, and covered with a substantial layer of hay, which is used to line their nest, and also as a food source. Their bedding must not be allowed to become damp as Steppe Lemmings are susceptible respiratory ailments. Plastic tubes and a small mouse size wheel should be provided for exercise. Pet stores offer small wheels that attach to the sides of aquariums which help make it less likely for the wheel to get clogged with bedding material.

Steppe lemmings benefit from open air but their environment should be kept away from open windows to prevent drafts and they must be kept out of out of direct sunlight.

 

Depending on the size of the tank and how many individuals are housed within it,  their tank needs regular maintenance, to prevent build up; the tank, toys, water and food dishes should be completely changed and disinfected on a regular basis. It is recommended that antibacterial soap be used to wash everything; then be sure to thoroughly rinse and thoroughly dry everything before replacing any accessories back into the tank. Discard all old bedding and wooden chew toys and replace with new.  

 

Steppe Lemmings are quite prolific and breed throughout the year. They have a gestation period of around 21 days and give birth to an average of 8 babies (4-12 babies is not uncommon), the babies are born naked and blind after but mature quickly. Their eyes open by day 12 and they start to eat around this time. They are fully weaned by 21 days and reach sexual maturity between 28 -35 days.  Males do not participate in rearing the young but nursing mothers usually accept other females and often they will share the same nest.

 

Females produce a dozen or more per year but it is best to limit the breeding to 5-6 litters in a year as over-breeding can shorten her life expectancy. To prevent future breedings it will be necessary to separate all of the males from the females. Sexing such a small active pet can be a bit of a challenge but once you get the hang of it really isn’t that difficult. The space between the anus and the genital area is nearly double on a male and his testes do noticeably bulge. Keep in mind that once you have separated them it may be hard to reintroduce them again.

To check to see what we have available or if you would like more information regarding Steppe Lemmings, please feel free to email us at the link provided below

If, after reviewing our website http://heritagepets.ca/ should you still have questions that have not already been addressed on the site or if you would like to book a time to visit us at our home in Niagara Falls please call us instead of emailing.
289-990-hpets (289-990-4738) or 647-725-1111.
(Visits are in Niagara Falls only.
our phone lines are open from 10AM until 10PM daily.)

(secondary email critterscanada@cogeco.ca)

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