Meriones gerbil

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Meriones (rodent)

Meriones gerbil is a rodent genus that includes the gerbil most commonly kept as a pet, Meriones unguiculatus. The genus contains most animals referred to as jirds, but members of the genera Sekeetamys, Brachiones, and sometimes Pachyuromys are also known as jirds. The distribution of Meriones ranges from northern Africa to Mongolia. Meriones jirds tend to inhabit arid regions including clay desert, sandy desert, and steppe, but are also in slightly wetter regions, and are an agricultural pest.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Rodentia
  • Family: Muridae
  • Subtribe: Gerbillina
  • Genus: Meriones

Meriones gerbil (mythology)

In Greek mythology, Meriones was a son of Molus and Melphis or Euippe. Molus was a half-brother of Idomeneus. Like other heroes of mythology, Meriones was said to be a descendant of gods. As a grandson of Deucalion (son of Minos), Meriones’s ancestors include Zeus, Europa, Helios, and Circe. Meriones gerbil possessed the helmet of Amyntor, which Autolycus had stolen. He inherited the helmet from his father Molus and later gave it to Odysseus. Meriones killed seven men at Troy.

Habitat and Ecology

This is a diurnal, fossorial, social and colonial (5-20 individuals) species. The species forms superficial to deep burrows in plains, prefers hammocky landscapes on sandy plains with higher density of bushes.

Typical habitats include alluvial plains, uncultivated clay flats, sandy plains, interdunal regions, gravelly depressions with grasses and other vegetation (S. Chakraborty in litt. 2005). The species can also be found in acacia forest and hedges. It has been found to occupy the edges of cultivated fields.


Mongolian gerbils live in the highlands in Inner Mongolia. Climate in these regions is extreme, temperatures can vary from -40 degrees Celsius in the winter to 50 degrees Celsius in the summer. These areas are characterized by low annual precipitation (less than 230 mm a year) and a long winter. Gerbils, or jirds, live in clay or sandy deserts, grasslands, scrub, arid steppes, and mountain valleys.

Food Habits

Mongolian gerbils feed mainly on mugwort (Artemisia sieversiana and A. commutata). Saltwort (Salsola collina), bristle grass (Setaria viridis), and lyme grass (Leymus chinensis) are also eaten.


Adult Meriones species range in size from 9 to 18 cm (head and body), with tails equal to or slightly longer than the rest of the animals. Weights vary widely by species, but is generally between 30 and 200 grams.

They are more rat-like in appearance than many other gerbillines, but are still capable of leaping. They have strong front claws, used to dig their burrows.


Females reproduce until they are 20 months old. Average lifespan in the wild is less than 6 months [0434]. One captive specimen lived 6.3 years [0671].


Pavlinov et al. considered the genus to belong to the (sub)tribe Rhombomyina, a group of mostly Asian gerbils. Tong’s hypothesized relationship is consistent, and the taxonomy of Pavlinov et al. was adopted by Musser and Carleton. McKenna and Bell (1997) use the subtribe name Merionina for the same group.

In particular, Meriones gerbil is thought by Pavlinov et al. to be sister (cladistically closest) to the genus Brachiones. Tong (1989), however, suggests Psammomys is its sister genus.

Meriones gerbil images

Also more: Mongolian gerbil

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