Gerbil (14 genera, 110 species)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family:    Muridae
Size:    Length: 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) 
Weight: 1 to 8 ounces (28 to 227 g)
Diet: Plants, nuts, seeds, roots and insects
Distribution: Africa, Asia
Young:  2 to 10, several times per year
Animal Predators:  Eagles, owls, foxes and wolves
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Male: Buck  Female: Doe  Young: Pup  Group: Horde
Lifespan: 1 to 2 years in the wild and from 3 to 8 years in captivity



·       When gerbils greet each other, they lick each other’s mouths.

·       Gerbils are sometimes also called sand rats or desert rats.

·       When gerbils sense danger, they drum their feet on the ground to warn others.

·       Their temperature ranges from 99 to 102º F (37.4 to 39º C) and their heart rate varies from 260 to 600 beats/minute.



In the wild, gerbils have beige-coloured fur that gives them camouflage against the desert sand. Their eyes are large and dark and their underbelly is white. Unlike mice, their long tail is furred.



There are 100 species of gerbils and they all live in dry, desert-type areas or grasslands in Asia and Africa, including Mongolia, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Sri Lanka, India, and northern China. The best-known species is the Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus), found worldwide as a household pet.


Feeding Habits

At night, when the air has cooled, they come out to forage for food. Although gerbils can go for a long time without water, they do need to drink in order to be healthy. Gerbil mothers who have gone a long time without drinking water may even eat their newborns.



Gerbils can begin to breed when they reach the age of three months. For most species, there is no set time of the year for breeding—it can occur year round. Gerbils are usually monogamous and form close pair bonds. Babies are born 21 to 24 days after mating, and although the father does not participate in the birth, he plays an active role once the babies are born. Litter sizes can be two to 10, but are usually four to five, although once a female is over one year of age, her litters will be less frequent, with less pups in each litter. Females produce an average of seven litters in a lifetime. Newborns are tiny (0.08 ounces/2.5 grams), naked, deaf, blind and completely helpless. At this stage, the father mostly just helps to keep them warm. When they get a little bigger (about 10 days old), they begin to run about even though their eyes still have not opened, so the father follows them to make sure they come to no harm, and returns them to the nest. Their eyes open at about 16 days and they are weaned at about 25 days. 



During the heat of the day, gerbils sleep in their burrows with the entrances sealed to keep out the heat as well as predators. On exceptionally warm days, they wet down their fur with their tongue to keep cool. They either walk on all fours or hop on their strong hind legs. They are social animals and their burrows will often intersect underground by tunnels to the burrows of several other gerbils. They love to dig and will even roll in sand. When feeling contented, gerbils wash themselves all over, and hold the tail between their front teeth to wash it. They also like to groom each other and will roll on their backs in front of each other when they want to be groomed. Like all animals, they have a variety of emotions, including fear, curiosity, happiness, anger, etc., and they express these emotions in well-defined ways. When afraid, for instance, gerbils sit up in a frozen position with their front paws together. When gerbils want solitude, they will push other gerbils away with their head.



Gerbils are not considered a conservation concern.



Gerbil Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US

Vaughan, T., Ryan, J. and Czaplewski, N. (2000). Mammalogy, Fourth Edition. Orlando: Saunders College Publishing