A-z - Animals


gerbil facts

Insects, chicks, other gerbils
young name
group behavior
  • in groups
interesting fact
Gerbils are named after the jerboa, which is also a rodent. Jerboa look like gerbils, but are not closely related to them.
Estimated population size
Unknown, although some species are endangered
biggest threat
snakes, birds of prey, carnivores, humans
Most distinctive
their jumping ability. Some gerbils can jump up to 11.5 feet.
other names)
Three to four weeks if the female is not lactating, longer if she is.
litter size
1 to 13 babies
Deserts and other dry places, although some gerbils are found in pastures, woodlands, scrub forests and valleys.

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"Gerbils are cute and cuddly rodent cannibals!"

Gerbils belong to a subfamily in the order Rodentia called Gerbilinae. This subfamily includes jirds. Gerbils are in a different genus from the rodents formally known as gerbils, but sometimes the animals are used interchangeably. In fact, the most popular Mongolian gerbil is also known as the Mongolian gerbil.

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Four Unbelievable Gerbil Facts!

Some facts about gerbils include:

  • While there are more than a hundred species, the Mongolian gerbil is the most commonly kept as a pet.
  • Fat-tailed gerbils have shorter tails than other gerbils and are shaped like clubs. It also has almost no hair. It is used to store water and fat during hard times.
  • The largest is the giant gerbil, which can grow up to 16 inches long. It is found in Central Asia. It is also the host species of plague.
  • Most species are diurnal, or they are active during the day. Cheesman's gerbil, Setzer's gerbil, and the nocturnal Boehm's gerbil are exceptions. The Cheesman gerbil is found in the Middle East, the Setzer gerbil is found in the Namib Desert in Africa, and the Boehm gerbil is found in several African countries.

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scientific name

Different species have different scientific names, but all belong to the family Muridae and the subfamily Gerbilidae. In addition to about 110 species, there are about 16 genera. The Mongolian gerbil's scientific name, Meriones unguiculatus, means "clawed femur" in Greek. The scientific name of the fat-tailed gerbil is Pachyuromys duprasi . Pachyuromys is a Greek word meaning "fat-tailed rat." It is the only member of the genus. Some other gerbil species are:

  • Jirds ( Meriones rex )
  • Northern pygmy gerbil ( Gerbillus pulvinatus )
  • Bushy-tailed gerbil ( Sekeetamys calurus )
  • African gerbil ( Gerbilliscus leucogaster )
  • Hair-footed gerbil or southern dwarf gerbil ( Gerbillurus paeba )
  • Small bare-bottomed gerbil ( Taterillus gracilis )
  • Ammodile or walo ( Ammodillus imbellis )
  • Dwarf gerbil ( Dipodillus harwoodi )
  • Somali pygmy gerbil ( Microdillus peeli )
  • Platts gerbil ( Brachiones przewalskii )

evolution and history

Gerbils belong to the family Murdiae in the order Rodentia . Their closest relatives are extinct species belonging to the genus Myocricetodon . Fossils representing this extinct genus have been found in Africa and Eurasia, dating to the Miocene period, 16.4 to 11.2 million years ago.

The first historical mention of gerbils was in the 1860s. They were discovered in northern China by missionary Father Armand Davies, who thought they were chinchillas and sent them to the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Scientist Alfonse Milne-Edwards subsequently named them Gerbillus unguiculatus . Mongolian gerbils belong to their own specific subfamily and are the most common species of gerbils today, originating from captive and preserved wild specimens at the Kitasato Research Institute in Japan. In 1954, Dr. Victor Schwentker introduced some of these gerbils to the United States and established a colony at Tumblebrook Farm in New York.

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Gerbil Health and Recreation

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It is a small rodent with thick fur and a long tail.


Gerbils are small rodents with thick fur. Some animals have soft fur while others are rough. Coats are usually neutral in color to help the animal blend in with its surroundings, as they are a favorite food of various predators. Regardless of the color of the top coat, the undercoat is usually white or light yellow. These rodents range in size from 6 inches to 16 inches and weigh between 0.35 and 8 ounces.

The tail is usually half or more the length of the body. One exception is the fat-tailed gerbil, which has a rounded tail that, in healthy animals, is fat and barely hairless. In some species, males are larger, while in others, males and females are roughly the same size. Most species have long, narrow hind feet that help the animal hop. They also have long claws to help them dig. Some of them have small ears, while others have longer ears.

Gerbils can have a life expectancy of only a few months in the wild because of the number of animals that prey on them. However, well cared for pet gerbils can live up to eight years old. This is especially true of fat-tailed gerbils, which can live that long if cared for properly.


Gerbil, Hamster, Eating, Animal, Animal Body Part
Gerbils are social animals and should be kept with at least one other gerbil to prevent loneliness.


Mongolian gerbils kept as pets are social animals, and owners should buy at least two from the same litter to prevent one animal from feeling lonely. While most species are diurnal, some are active at dusk, others are nocturnal, and some are active both day and night. They are burrowing animals that dig burrows with chambers for different functions. One chamber was probably used to store food, another for sleeping, and another for a potty.

Gerbils are social and interact strongly with each other. They groom each other, play, fight, and snuggle up for warmth while they sleep. Sometimes a real fight breaks out if the cave starts to get crowded. Although these rodents are social animals, they are also territorial and pet owners should be very careful introducing two unrelated animals to each other. It is not unheard of for gerbils to fight to the death.

Young gerbils may leave their burrows and wander around until they find a home of their own. Unlike kangaroos, they need water and will leave their habitat in case of drought. They don't hibernate, but can go into torpor and live in burrows for long periods of time when temperatures drop. They have excellent hearing and vision and make a variety of sounds including squeaks, grunts, clicks, rattles and squeals. If they are agitated, they will sometimes tap the ground with their hind feet.


Gerbils in the Gobi Desert.
Gerbils are endemic to parts of Africa, China, South Africa, India, Asia, Mali, and Eastern Europe.

© Wildpix productions/Shutterstock.com

Most species live in arid regions such as deserts, rocky areas or dry savannahs, but there are exceptions such as the Gorongosa gerbil, which lives in the humid savannahs of southeastern Africa. Some of them are specific to a country. For example, Przewalski's wild gerbil is only found in China, Cape gerbil is only found in South Africa, red-haired gerbil is endemic to Mali, and Cheng's gerbil is only found in the Turpan depression in Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China.

When it comes to habitat for pets, it's best to provide the largest enclosure possible for these rodents, since they are active creatures. Compared to wire cages, glass aquariums are ideal for them because they allow for plenty of bedding and encourage gerbils to dig. The rodents can also get injured by the wires of wire cages and chew on plastic cages. They also need a nest box where they can hide and sleep. It is best done in ceramic, and a terracotta planter might be just that.

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These rodents also need toys, but these toys should not be made of plastic or anything that is a chewing hazard. Besides toys, they also benefit from an exercise wheel. The ideal temperature for the case is between 68 and 75.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Never keep gerbils in direct sunlight.


Gerbils love to eat plant and animal material, but they also have a tendency to cannibalize each other.

© Pengo, Ericje on en.wikipedia/Creative Commons

Another fact about gerbils is that they are omnivorous, which means they eat plant and animal material. They happily eat seeds, nuts, roots, grasses and fruits. In the wild, they eat bird eggs, hatchlings, and insects. They didn't go beyond cannibalism.

Pet owners can be fed commercial foods, but gerbils do have a habit of picking out their favorites and ignoring everything else. Pellets are probably better because the animal can't throw away something it doesn't like. Treats can be given to train a gerbil or to help it build trust in its owner. These include raisins or raisins, the occasional nut, the sunflower seeds they covet, and mealworms. Some owners let their pets chew on puppy biscuits because it keeps the rodent's teeth from filing.

Predators and Threats

Most wild gerbils have plenty of predators to hide from. They range from owls to foxes to snakes. Some species are still hunted by humans for their fur. Others are threatened by human development and climate change. They are also prey for a variety of parasites, including fleas.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Mongolian gerbil pup lying on dry grass.
Gerbils develop rapidly. Their fur begins to grow between 8 and 13 days after birth.

© Sweet February/Shutterstock.com

Some members of the gerbil subfamily breed throughout the year, and some have a fixed breeding season. The truth about most females is that they are polygonal, which means they go into estrus year-round and can have more than one litter a year. They may go into estrus immediately after giving birth and may still be nursing the first litter while pregnant with the second.

Females give birth to an average of four to seven pups that are born helpless. Yet they developed rapidly. Their fur begins to grow eight to thirteen days after birth, and by about two weeks of age, their coat is fully grown, although their eyes remain closed. After about a week, however, their fur unfurls and they are free to run around and explore. They are weaned and independent at one month of age and mature at two and a half to four months of age.

In the first few days after the baby is born, the mother moves the baby from one nest to another, and she will change the burrow to give birth to the second nest. She tirelessly nurtures her young, and in some species, the father does the same.

One of the saddest facts about a Mongolian gerbil mother is that she tends to abandon her offspring if she only has one or two, and if she loses a mate, she likely won't mate again. Mongolian gerbils kept as pets live an average of three to four years.


While the total number of these rodents is unknown, it is likely in the hundreds of thousands due to the wide variety of gerbil species and the fact that female gerbils can produce several litters a year. Data for many gerbil species has not been collected. However, there are still gerbils that are endangered. They include Sudan's main gerbil, which may number as few as 250 in the wild. Cheng's sandbags are also critically endangered, as are Arabian, Dahl, Buxton and Zarudny sandbags. The ammodile or Somali gerbil is threatened by habitat loss.

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Gerbils FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are gerbils herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Gerbils are omnivores.

To which kingdom do gerbils belong?

Gerbils belong to the animal kingdom.

What class do gerbils belong to?

Gerbils belong to the class Mammalia.

What phylum do gerbils belong to?

Gerbils belong to the phylum Chordate.

What family do gerbils belong to?

Gerbils belong to the family Muridae.

What order do gerbils belong to?

Gerbils belong to the order Rodentia.

What type of mulch do gerbils have?

Gerbils are covered with fur.

What type of habitat do gerbils live in?

Gerbils live in dry deserts.

What is the main prey of gerbils?

Gerbils eat seeds, fruits and nuts.

What are the natural enemies of gerbils?

Predators of gerbils include birds, snakes, and feral cats.

How many children does a gerbil have?

The average number of babies in a gerbil is 8.

What's a fun fact about gerbils?

Gerbils were originally called desert rats!

What is the lifespan of a gerbil?

Gerbils can live 3 to 5 years.

How fast are gerbils?

Gerbils can travel as fast as 4 miles per hour.

What is a Gerbil?

Gerbils are rodents that belong to the family Muridae and the subfamily Gerbils.

Where do gerbils live in the wild?

Gerbils typically live in dry places such as deserts, dry scrublands, and savannas. However, they cannot live where it almost never rains because they do need water.

Where do gerbils come from?

Gerbils come from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Are Gerbils Good Pets?

Gerbils make great pets for people who can take care of them properly. They are clean, gentle and easy to care for. They need a gerbil at the right temperature with enough bedding for them to burrow in, food and fresh clean water, toys to keep them busy, wheels to exercise them on, and a playmate to keep them from being alone.

Are gerbils better than hamsters?

Gerbils are much better than hamsters. Gerbils love being petted or at least tolerate it, but hamsters don't and tend to bite.

Are gerbils mice?

Gerbils are not mice, although both mice and gerbils are rodents.

Do gerbils bite?

In general, gerbils will not bite unless they feel genuinely threatened.

What do gerbils look like?

A gerbil is furry, with large, dark eyes and a long tail, sometimes as long as its body. Unlike many mice and rats, most gerbils have fur on their tails.

What is the Difference Between Gerbils and Hamsters?

The most notable difference between gerbils and hamsters is that gerbils have a long tail. Hamsters have stubby tails and are also bigger and fatter than gerbils. They are nocturnal, while most gerbils are diurnal. Gerbils generally live in groups, while hamsters are solitary and cannot tolerate each other outside of mating season. Hamsters also have less life expectancy than pet gerbils. Hamsters can be expected to live up to two years, while gerbils can live up to eight years.

What is the Difference Between Guinea Pigs and Gerbils?

The main differences between guinea pigs and gerbils are size, diet, behavior, and temperament.

What is the difference between a gerbil and a mouse?

The main difference between gerbils and mice is that gerbils have hairy tails, are native to Mongolia and China, and dig deep burrows in the desert. Rats, with their hairless tails, are an invasive species worldwide and often require the presence of humans to survive.

Thanks for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. Valley Animal Hospital, available here: https://valleyanimal.net/general/pocket-pets-gerbils-vs-hamsters/
  2. Animal Diversity website, available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Gerbillinae/
  3. The Spruce Pets, available here: https://www.thesprucepets.com/gerbils-4162084
  4. RSPCA, available here: https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rodents/gerbils/environment
  5. Wikipedia, available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principal_gerbil