• colonization;
  • cytochrome b;
  • geographic isolation;
  • heterochromatin;
  • karyotype;
  • Robertsonian fusion;
  • telomeric sequences

The karyotype of the Cretan spiny mouse Acomys minous was examined with chromosome banding techniques in 53 individuals from 12 localities of Crete, aiming to gain a more detailed knowledge on the chromosomal constitution and variability of its natural populations. We found that it consists of three Robertsonian (Rb) populations with 2n = 38, 2n = 40 and 2n = 42, respectively, the last one being reported for the first time, and with stable fundamental number (FNa = 66, FN = 68). The G-banding pattern proves that the Rb populations are closely linked phylogenetically by the many common Rb fusions and the lack of monobrachial homologies. In addition, they appear to freely mate at their contact areas, producing viable and fertile hybrids. No other type of chromosomal rearrangement appears to have played part in the chromosomal evolution of this species, at least in the recent past, as indicated also by the study of the telomeric sequences. Heterochromatin appears to be restricted to the pericentromeric position of all acrocentric and most biarmed autosomes, as well as of the X chromosome, whereas the Y chromosome is uniformly, yet faintly heterochromatic. Chromosome banding comparison of the karyotypes in A. minous with those of the other species in the cahirinus group (i.e. Acomys cahirinus, Acomys cilicicus, and Acomys nesiotes) proves their very close phylogenetic relationship, further reinforced by the study of the cytochrome b sequences, and that A. minous possesses the ancestral karyotype of the group. It is suggested that at least two of the karyotypes that characterize A. minous today, pre-existed in North Africa before it colonized Crete and that the specific status of the four members in the cahirinus group may need to be revisited. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 102, 498–509.