Mongolian gerbil

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Mongolian gerbil

Meriones unguiculatus, the Mongolian gerbil or Mongolian jird, is a small rodent belonging to the subfamily Gerbillinae. It is the most widely known species of the gerbil subfamily, and is the most commonly kept as a small house pet or experimental animal. Under those conditions, it is known as the domesticated gerbil.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Rodentia
  • Family: Muridae
  • Genus: Meriones
  • Species: M. unguiculatus
  • Binomial name: Meriones unguiculatus

The Mongolian Gerbil is among around 87 other known species and are known for their inquisitive natures and the fact they become very tame when kept as pets. The great thing about them is that instead of running away when they hear a new sound or come across something they have never seen before, these delightful creatures are more likely to investigate what’s going on rather than hide away.

Gerbil Appearance

Gerbils are fairly small rodents with long furry tails that have a little tuft of fur at the end (but you should never pick a gerbil up by their tail).

The wild type coloration is referred to as “agouti” color where each hair is banded with gray, yellowish, and black, with off-white hair on the belly. However, through selective breeding, several lovely color variations are available including white, black, and gold. Unlike a mouse or hamster, they can often be seen sitting up on their hind legs.

Habitat and Ecology

Inhabits steppe, semi-desert and desert habitats, frequently occurring in areas with clay soils, or cultivated fields, at railroad mounds, and other grasslands. Not found in mountainous terrain. Active during both day and night, although primarily diurnal during winter.

Does not hibernate or estivate. Density of the Mongolian Gerbil is quite variable over its range, but it can occur at extremely high densities under some conditions. Colonial, its normal social unit is the family group. Families live together and mutually defend their burrow system, and all members contribute to gathering food stores (which can weigh as much as 20 kg).


Though gerbils are typical desert animals who, in the wild, obtain most of their needed water from the foods they eat, caged gerbils still need a daily, fresh source of water. Their diet should consist of quality, pellet foods.Occasional small treats, a very small amount of seed, and small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables can also be offered.


The first known mention of gerbils came in 1866, by Father Armand David, who sent “yellow rats” to the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, from northern China. They were named Meriones unguiculatus by the scientist Henri Milne-Edwards in 1867.

There’s a popular misconception about the meaning of this scientific name, appearing both in printed works and in websites, due to the genus Meriones sharing the name with Greek warrior Meriones in Homer’s Iliad; however, translations like “clawed warrior” are incorrect.

The genus was named by Johann Karl Wilhelm Illiger in 1811, deriving from the Greek word μηρος (femur). Combined with ‘unguiculate’, meaning to have claws or nails in Latin, the name can be loosely translated as ‘clawed femur.


Meriones unguiculatus evolved on the semideserts and steppes of Mongolia. There, they developed long legs for jumping and running from predators, teeth to deal with hard seeds and plant matter, and water conservation techniques that allow them to survive in the arid climate, such as the ability to use dry food or stores of fat to generate metabolic water.


  • In the wild a colony of gerbils can build an extensive network of burrows. They create an organised system with tunnels leading to areas containing food stores, nesting areas, and escape routes.
  • There are a few reasons for this; they use their rear legs to dig quickly, they thump their rear feet on the ground to raise an alarm if they sense danger, and males thump their feet after mating.
  • Because their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives gerbils need to gnaw daily. The best solution you can offer them is to put some gnawing toys in their cage.
  • The colour most commonly seen is agouti. But there are many more variations including spotted, black, golden, lilac, and many more.

Mongolian gerbil images

Image by Dieter Martin from Pixabay

Also more: Gerbil

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