Zokor

Last updated: November 28, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© A. C. Tatarinov/CCBYSA4.0 – License / Original

Zokors are expert diggers. They burrow tunnels hundreds of feet long!

Zokor Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Rodentia
Family
Spalacidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Zokor Conservation Status

Zokor Locations

Zokor Locations

Zokor Facts

Prey
insects
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
  • Territorial
Fun Fact
Zokors are expert diggers. They burrow tunnels hundreds of feet long!
Estimated Population Size
unknown
Biggest Threat
predators, humans
Temperament
aggressive
Habitat
temperate woodland regions, steppes, river valley meadows, pastures, vegetable gardens, and old agricultural fields
Predators
Eurasian ferrets, hawks, steppe polecats, eagles, owls, the Eurasian lynx, saker falcons, goshawks, black kites, foxes, buzzards, and the Chinese mountain cat.
Diet
Omnivore
Average Litter Size
four to six young
Favorite Food
Plants such as bulbs, roots, grains, tubers, seeds, and rhizomes.
Special Features
long, gray fur, long claws, and long incisors
Origin
Asia
Number Of Species
6
Location
China, Kazakhstan, Siberian Russia, Mongolia
Nesting Location
underground tunnels

Zokor Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Grey
Skin Type
Fur
Weight
5 to 20 ounces
Length
six to ten inches
Venomous
No
Aggression
High

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“Zokors are expert diggers. They burrow tunnels hundreds of feet long!”

Zokor Summary

Zokors are rodents native to Asia. They are “molelike” creatures with tiny eyes, long, sharp claws, and long incisors. Zokors are expert burrowers and mostly live underground. You will rarely catch these animals on the surface, though you could spot the mounds of dirt they kick up during digging expeditions.

Zokor Facts

  • Zokors possess immensely long and curved claws that sharpen themselves.
  • They don’t have any visible, external ears, but they can still hear.
  • These rodents are expert diggers and burrowers. They burrow tunnels that can stretch an impressive 328 feet.
  • They have storage chambers in their tunnels where they keep food. They also have nesting spaces and waste chambers.
  • Zokors have photosensitive eyes, which means they are vulnerable to light.
  • Though they have tiny eyes, they also have heightened senses of hearing and smelling. They can communicate with each other through scent marking using their own urine and feces. They also call out when they catch prey or feel threatened.
  • They are considered pests by the people who inhabit their regions and have endured wide scale extermination plans. However, this human activity hasn’t dented their population.
  • These tiny animals rarely surface aboveground, but when they do come out to forage, they do so at night. This could be to avoid predation.
  • Other species of animals utilize zokor tunnels for shelter and breeding. Zokors even have to compete with some of these animals for space.

Scientific Name

Zokors are rodents that belong to the subfamily Myospalacinae. They belong to the family Spalacidae and are comprised of two living genera: Myospalax and Eospalax. The third genus, Pliosiphneus, is extinct.

These two genera contain three species each, totaling six species in the Spalacidae family.

The following species make up the genus Myospalax:

  • The Siberian zokor, Myospalax myospalax
  • The false zokor, Myospalax aspalax
  • The Transbaikal zokor, Myospalax psilurus

The following species make up the genus Eospalax:

  • Rothschild’s zokor, Eospalax rothschildi
  • Chinese zokor, Eospalax fontanierii
  • Smith’s zokor, Eospalax smithii

Zokors are members of the order Rodentia.

Evolution and History

Zokors are frequently compared to mole rats in appearance, and they are actually somewhat closely related to the blind mole rat who belongs to the subfamily Spalacinae. They are also closely related to root and bamboo rats that belong to the subfamily Rhizomyinae, also in the family Spalacidae.

They make up their own subfamily called Myospalacinae. These creatures have a temporal range from the Late Miocene period to the present. Fossil records of the zokor’s ancestors place them in China as far back as 11.2 million to 5.3 million years ago.

Studies show that one of the central evolutionary diversifications in rodents that belong to the superfamily Muroidea separated the burrowing rodents and nonburrowing rodents. Zokors belong to the burrowing category.

Zokor Appearance

zokor eating
Zokors have long, silky fur and their color varies from grayish to reddish brown and even pinkish buff.

©Xiao Sa/CCBYSA4.0 – License

Zokors are medium-sized, mole-like rodents. These animals have round, cylindrical bodies which are about 6 to 10 inches long. They have long, silky fur and their color varies from grayish to reddish brown and even pinkish buff. There are six species of zokor, thus, their color naturally differs. One of the species even has white patches. They are quite robust animals and weigh around 5 to 20 ounces.

The zokor’s limbs are short but powerful. They have big, wide feet and very long and curved front claws. Their tiny eyes are very sensitive to light and almost invisible underneath their long fur. The third claw on each front foot is the strongest. The longest claws on their front feet are at least three times as long as those of the hind feet.

Zokors have a very short tail that measures only about 1.2 inches to 4 inches in length. The tail barely has any fur on it and usually comes in a solid color, or a dark color on top and white below.

They are well-known for their long incisors, which they use for digging and burrowing. They have a dental formula of 1/1, 0/0, 0/0, 3/3, in the order incisor, canine, premolar, and molar.

Females have three pairs of teats.

Zokor Behavior

Zokors are foremost a burrowing species, and they spend a considerable amount of their lives underground. They are capable of burrowing complex tunnels. First, they dig with their front feet and push the soil out with their heads. Then, they kick up the dirt they have dug out from behind them with their hind legs, leaving mounds of soil on the surface. This is unlike other spalacids who mostly use their incisors as their digging tools.

They construct labyrinths of tunnels into a living space that includes a nesting area, food storage, and “toilet” chamber for waste. They dig this space, along with several other tunnels for foraging, over 6.5 feet into the ground. The foraging tunnels can spread over remarkable distances of up to 328 feet long.

These rodents sometimes look for food above the ground at night. Although they stay active year-round without hibernating, they tend to hit their maximum activity level in the spring and fall. Zokors are territorial animals. They are mostly solitary and can be very aggressive.

They communicate with each other through various means. Since they have small photosensitive eyes, they rely on their senses of hearing and smelling. They scent mark with urine and feces and have distinct calls for when predators attack.

Many farmers in the regions they inhabit consider them pests. While their burrowing activities increase soil nutrient distribution and aeration of the soil, they also eventually decrease the diversity of the plant species. Zokor burrowing activities also damage plant roots. In addition, they eat the plants they come across while digging.

Their tunnels serve as shelter and breeding sites for other species of animals as well, including reptiles, birds, mammals, and amphibians. They sometimes have to compete with these intruders for space.

Zokor Diet

These rodents are omnivores that may sometimes occur as primarily herbivores. They are also insectivorous animals. They mostly eat plants such as bulbs, roots, grains, tubers, seeds, and rhizomes, and also eat leaves, shoots, and insects as well. Zokors forage above the ground at night and keep stores of food in long, elaborate tunnels underground.

Habitat and Population

Zokors are native to China, Siberian Russia, and Kazakhstan. Their habitat range spans southern Mongolia, western Siberia, and northern and western China. They inhabit temperate woodland regions, steppes, river valley meadows, pastures, vegetable gardens, and old agricultural fields. These animals prefer to live in areas that have nutrient-rich soil, ample grasses, rhizomes, tubers, and bulbs to forage. They also inhabit mountain valleys at elevations of over 2,950 to 7,200 feet. Zokors usually avoid stony slopes and sod-covered steppes.

They are relatively common in their native regions, despite locals in western China hunting them. All six species are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Chinese zokor (Myospalax fontanierii) was formerly listed as a vulnerable species in 1996, but has been updated to Least Concern.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Scientists don’t know much about the mating behavior of zokors. Females typically give birth once a year each spring to about four to six young. The offspring remain dependent on their mother and stay with her throughout the summer until fall when they go their separate ways.

Predators and Threats

Zokors are prey to many carnivorous animals such as Eurasian ferrets, hawks, steppe polecats, eagles, owls, the Eurasian lynx, saker falcons, goshawks, black kites, foxes, buzzards, and the Chinese mountain cat.

These rodents spend most of their lives in underground burrows and tunnels, limiting their ground-level activities to the nighttime, which helps them avoid predators.

Human beings also make the list of predators. Zokor bone is used in traditional Chinese medicine. Also, due to their status as pests, they were systematically hunted and killed by landowners and farmers.

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About the Author

Hi! I am a writer, actor, and filmmaker. Reading is my favorite hobby. Watching old movies and taking short naps are a close second and third. I have been writing since childhood, with a vast collection of handwritten books sealed away in a duffel bag somewhere in my room. I love fiction, especially fantasy and adventure. I recently won the James Currey Prize 2022, so now, naturally, I feel like I own words. When I was 11, I wanted to be a marine biologist because I love animals, particularly dogs, cats, and owls. I also enjoy potatoes and chocolate in all their glorious forms.

Zokor FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What family do zokors belong to?

Zokors belong to the family Spalacidae. Zokor is the name of the subfamily Myospalacinae.

How many genera do zokors have?

The zokor possesses two genera, Myospalax and Eospalax.

How many species do zokor have?

There are six species of zokor, namely: the Chinese zokor, the Rothschild’s zokor, the Siberian zokor, the false zokor, the Transbaikal zokor, and the Smith’s zokor.

What kingdom does the zokor belong to?

Zokors belong to the animal kingdom, Animalia.

What phylum does the zokor belong to?

Zokors belong to the phylum Chordata, because they possess backbones.

What class does the zokor belong to?

Zokors belong to the class Mammalia, because they give birth to live young and feed their offspring milk from the mother.

What do zokors eat?

Zokors are omnivores. They mostly eat plants such as bulbs, roots, grains, tubers, seeds, and rhizomes. They also eat leaves, shoots, and insects as well.

Where do zokors come from?

Zokors are native to China, Siberian Russia, and Kazakhstan. Their habitat range spans southern Mongolia, western Siberia, and northern and western China.

How long are zokor tunnels?

Zokors dig foraging tunnels that spread over distances of up to 328 feet long.

What eats zokors?

Eurasian ferrets, hawks, steppe polecats, eagles, owls, the Eurasian lynx, saker falcons, goshawks, black kites, foxes, buzzards, and the Chinese mountain cat are all zokor predators.

How big do zokors get?

Zokors weigh anything from 5 to 20 ounces and reach lengths of 6 to just over 10 inches.

Are zokors friendly?

Zokors are known to be highly territorial and aggressive.

How long is the zokor’s tail?

Zokors have a very short tail that measures only about 1.2 inches to 4 inches in length.

What types of regions do zokors inhabit?

Zokors inhabit temperate woodland regions, steppes, river valley meadows, pastures, vegetable gardens, and old agricultural fields. Zokors prefer to live in areas that have nutrient-rich soil, ample grasses, rhizomes, tubers, and bulbs to forage.

How can I spot a zokor?

Unless you have burrowing abilities, it might be difficult sighting these elusive creatures. Zokors are almost always underground where they live. They only come out occasionally above the ground to forage and return promptly to their burrowed chambers 6.6 feet under the soil surface.

Why are zokors considered pest animals?

While their burrowing activities have been known to increase soil nutrient distribution and aeration of the soil, zokors eventually decrease the diversity of the plant species in the given region. Zokor burrowing activities also damage plant roots and they consume a lot of the plants they come across while digging, resulting in crop loss.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/zokor
  2. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zokor
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muroidea
  4. Animal Diversity, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Myospalacinae/

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