Water, electrolyte and nitrogen balances of fat sand rats (Psammomys obesus) when consuming the saltbush Atriplex halimus

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The fat sand rat (Psammomys obesus), a diurnal gerbillid rodent, is able to thrive while consuming only the saltbush Atriplex halimus. This plant has a high ash, nitrogen and water content but low energy yield. We measured the electrolyte, nitrogen (N) and water balances of fat sand rats in captivity when they were offered only A. halimus. The fat sand rats scraped the outer layers of A. halimus leaves before consuming them. This removed 14.3% to 19.6% of the ash content of the leaves, and thus substantially reduced the electrolyte intake of the fat sand rats. Total urine osmolality ranged between 2739 and 3098 mOsm/kg, with Na+, K+ and CI ‐ comprising 74.3% to 82.5% of the total osmolytes, percentages much higher than those usually found in desert rodents. Water intake was relatively high compared to other rodents because of the high water content of A. halimus. Evaporative water loss averaged approximately 50% of the total water output. Nitrogen requirements were easily fulfilled, even when the fat sand rats did not meet their energy requirements because of the high N content of the plant. Metabolic faecal nitrogen was 70.5 mg‐kg‐′ 75.d‐′, endogenous urinary nitrogen was 171.9 mg. kg‐0′75 d‐′ and minimal N requirements were 242.3 mg.k g‐75d‐1. Minimal N requirements for the fat sand rats were approximately 98% of that expected for a eutherian mammal of its body mass. It was concluded that fat sand rats can maintain water, electrolyte and nitrogen balances when consuming only A. halimus without producing highly concentrated urine. This is due, in part, to their ability to remove much of the electrolytes before consuming the plant and by producing urine of which Na+, K+ and C1‐ comprise a large percentage of the total osmolytes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-462
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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