Steppe Fauna

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Steppe Fauna


the animals characteristic of steppes.

In species diversity and in some general ecological features, the steppe fauna of Eurasia closely resembles the region’s desert fauna, with which, according to some scientists, it is related by origin and development. Steppe fauna also resembles in some conditions of existence and forms of adaptation savanna and pampa faunas, but the last two types are marked by a different species composition. The steppe fauna changed drastically as a result of man’s agricultural activity (for example, plowing), especially in Europe, where the most characteristic steppe inhabitants have almost completely disappeared. Ungulates typically found in steppes, for example, antelopes, have keen vision and can run at great speeds for long periods of time. Typical burrowing rodents include susliks, marmots, mole rats, tuco-tucos, and gophers. The steppe fauna also includes a number of swift-running rodents, such as jerboas and kangaroo rats. Most bird species migrate to warmer regions in the winter, whereas some large mammals, including saigas and Asiatic wild asses, and many small mammals remain active despite the snow or hibernate.

The steppes of Europe and Asia are characterized by almost universal animal forms, for example, the polecat, the corsac, the mole-vole Ellobius talpinus, and the bustard. Widely distributed mammals include the wolf, true foxes, the short-tailed weasel, and the ermine; common birds include the crested lark. Because severe winds frequently blow in the steppes, the insects in such regions include mainly species that fly well and can resist the wind and species that fly very little. There are quite a few dipterans and a relatively large number of hymenoptera. Owlet moths are predominant among the moths. There are more than 5,000 beetle species, the most numerous being curculios, rove beetles, lamelli-corns, and darkling beetles. Heteropterous species are very common. Gregarious orthopterans, such as grasshoppers and locusts, are present, but the number of species is fewer than in deserts.

The animal life of the European-Kazakhstan steppes includes susliks, the birch mouse Sicista subtilis, jerboas, mole rats, the steppe lemming Lagurus lagurus, the meadow mouse Microtus socialis, hamsters, and the steppe pika. Mammals formerly encountered in the region include the tarpán and the Asiatic wild ass; wild camels were found in Kazakhstan until the 18th century. Typical birds in the European-Kazakhstan steppes are the black-winged pratincole, the Hungarian partridge, the tawny eagle, the lesser kestrel, the pallid harrier, and larks. Common reptiles include the viper Vípera renardi, the desert lacertid Eremias arguta, and the European whip snake (Coluber jugularis). Among the typical amphibians are green toads and spadefoot toads.

The steppes of Mongolia and China are inhabited by the Mongolian gazelle, the bobak, the suslik Citellus daurica, the Mongolian jird, the meadow mouse Microtus brandti, several species of jerboas and small hamsters, the pikas Ochotona dourica and O. goby, the cape hare, the Daurian hedgehog (Erinaceus dauricus), and the manul. Bird life includes the great bustard Otis tarda dybowski (also found in the semideserts of Kazakhstan and Middle Asia) and the Mongolian lark. A typical reptile is the desert lacertid Eremias argus.

The comparatively small steppe regions, or prairies, of North America are inhabited by a fauna that is less diverse that the Eurasian fauna and that has few common species, except related species of susliks and marmots. Bison, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, prairie foxes, prairie chickens, and wild turkeys are typical.

The animal life of the steppes of Australia consists primarily of various marsupials.


Bobrinskii, N. A., and N. A. Gladkov. Geografiia zhivotnykh, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1961.
Syroechkovskii, E. E., and E. V. Rogacheva. Zhivotnyi mir SSSR: Geografiia resursov. Moscow, 1975.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.