ABOUT THE GERBIL
Here is a critter you have probably never heard of. Gerbils have a quiet and calm nature. They are inquisitive and curious and not easily startled.
- Gerbils were originally known as ‘desert rats’ before they were introduced to North America and Europe as a companion species. Although they are rodents, they are a distinct group of animals from rats.
- Gerbils are able to shed their tail if it gets caught. This self-defence adaptation allows them to escape predators that are able to catch their tail as they try to flee. Their tails are around the same size as the rest of their body.
- Gerbils build extensive networks of underground tunnels. They spend most of their time in these burrows, only tending to leave to find food and water.
- Gerbils’ whole bodies, including their tails, are covered with fur. This is important for protecting them from getting sun-burnt in the hot desert regions.
- Gerbils have a quiet and calm nature. They are inquisitive and curious and not easily startled.
- When sensing danger, the normally quiet gerbil will let out a squeal and thump its back legs like a rabbit to warn others of the threat.
- There are over 100 different species of gerbil. The largest being the Great Gerbil, Rhombomys opimus, which is native to Turkmenistan and can grow up to 16 inches long. The most common species kept as a pet is the Mongolian gerbil, Meriones unguiculatus. The Mongolian gerbil’s scientific name means ‘small-clawed warrior’.
- Rather than using water, gerbils wash using sand. They roll around in the sand, which gets any debris off them and leaves them with a smoother and shinier coat.
- Gerbils are social animals, and live in groups in the wild. In domestic situations, unfamiliar gerbils are likely to be very aggressive to each other if forcibly introduced while still having contrasting scents.
- Gerbils are playful animals, and will often box and wrestle each other. Grooming is often carried out simultaneously here, illustrating that it is not an aggressive act. These dummy-fights can be vital for allowing young gerbils to learn to defend themselves in later life. It also helps maintain social bonds, although in adults such boxing can become a means of establishing rank in the dominance hierarchy.
Clancy's comment: They do make good pets. Cute, eh?