Overview

Comprehensive Description

Gerbillinae, otherwise known as the gerbils, jirds, and relatives, is a large Old World murid subfamily. This subfamily is one of the most well-defined in Muroidea. Its members have much in common; most being diurnal, saltatorial desert rodents. There are 103 gerbilline species in 16 genera.

  • Musser, G., M. Carleton. 2005. Superfamily Muroidea. D Wilson, D Reeder, eds. Mammal Species of the World. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Distribution

Gerbillines are Old World rodents. They are distributed throughout Africa and the Middle East, through central Asia including much of India, to eastern Mongolia.

Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native )

  • Carleton, M., G. Musser. 1984. Muroid rodents. Pp. 289-379 in S Anderson, J Jones Jr., eds. Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Gerbillines are small to medium-sized rodents. They range in length from 50 to 200 mm, with tails measuring 56 to 245 mm. They weigh between 10 and 227 grams. Gerbillines vary in the amount to which they are sexually dimorphic; even within a species males may be heavier than females in one population and the sexes may be the same size in another population (Sinai et al. 2003). Most gerbillines have well-furred, long tails and are modified for saltatorial locomotion, with long, narrow hind feet. Some species are cursorial. Gerbillines are generally slender animals with long claws. They may have long or short ears. Their pelage is long, thick, and soft or short and harsh. Some have tufted tips on their tails. Fur color varies widely, and may be reddish, mouse gray, yellowish, clay-colored, olive, dark brown, orangish, sandy buff, or pinkish cinnamon on the dorsal surface. The underparts are generally paler shades of gray, cream, or white. Some species have whitish spots on their heads, especially behind the ears.

The gerbilline dental formula is 1/1, 0/0, 0/0, 3/3 = 16, except for the genus Desmodilliscus, which only has two lower molars on each side. The layers of enamel on the   incisors are very thin compared to other muroid rodents. The   molars are rooted, with lophate, planar, or prismatic enamel patterns. The   coronoid process is very small or absent. Gerbillines have 12 thoracic vertebrae and seven lumbar vertebrae. Females have three or four pairs of mammae. The stomach consists of just a single chamber. There are no supraorbital or mandibular branches of the stapedial artery, and instead, the infraorbital artery supplies blood to the orbits. Gerbillines have diploid chromosome numbers between 18 and 74.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; male larger

  • Sinai, P., B. Krasnov, G. Shenbrot, I. Choshniak. 2003. Ecology and behaviour of the lesser Egyptian gerbil (Gerbillus gerbillus) (Rodentia: Gerbillidae) from the Negev highlands and Arava valley, Israel. Mammalia, 67 (1): 1-14.
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Ecology

Habitat

Most gerbillines live in dry, open habitats with sparse vegetation, including deserts, sandy plains, mountain slopes, steppes, grasslands, and savannahs. Some species also inhabit moist woodlands, agricultural fields, and mountain valleys.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; scrub forest ; mountains

Other Habitat Features: agricultural

  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, vol. 2. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Trophic Strategy

Gerbillines are primarily herbivorous or omnivorous, consuming nuts, seeds, roots, bulbs, fruits, grasses, insects, bird eggs and nestlings, and even others of their own species. Gerbillines store large quantities of plant food in their burrows--sometimes as much as 60 kg.

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Eats eggs, Insectivore ); herbivore (Folivore , Frugivore , Granivore ); omnivore

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Associations

Gerbillines are primary and secondary consumers, and they are food for a number of higher-level consumers. They are also pollinators of certain plants (Johnson et al. 2001), and probably have a role in seed dispersal. Gerbillines are parasitized by several flea species, such as Xenopsylla debilis, Xenopsylla humilis, and Xenopsylla difficilis.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; pollinates

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • Johnson, S., A. Pauw, J. Midgley. 2001. Rodent pollination in the African lily Massonia depressa (Hyacinthaceae). American Journal of Botany, 88(10): 1768-1773.
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Gerbillines are preyed upon by various snakes, owls, and small mammalian carnivores. To discourage predators from entering their burrows, some gerbillines keep the entrances blocked with sand. Others incorporate bolt holes into their burrow systems, into which they can make a hasty retreat if caught out in the open. In addition, gerbillines usually have neutral-colored fur, which no doubt helps them blend in to their sandy or rocky background.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Known predators

Gerbillinae (gerbils, hares) is prey of:
Canis aureus
Felis silvestris libyca
Vulpes vulpes
Accipiter badius
Canis lupus

Based on studies in:
India, Rajasthan Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • I. K. Sharma, A study of ecosystems of the Indian desert, Trans. Indian Soc. Desert Technol. and Univ. Center Desert Stud. 5(2):51-55, from p. 52 and A study of agro-ecosystems in the Indian desert, ibid. 5:77-82, from p. 79 1980).
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Known prey organisms

Gerbillinae (gerbils, hares) preys on:
Eleucine
Cyperus
Cenchrus
Zizyphus
Crotalaria

Based on studies in:
India, Rajasthan Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • I. K. Sharma, A study of ecosystems of the Indian desert, Trans. Indian Soc. Desert Technol. and Univ. Center Desert Stud. 5(2):51-55, from p. 52 and A study of agro-ecosystems in the Indian desert, ibid. 5:77-82, from p. 79 1980).
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Gerbillines have large eyes and good vision. They also use auditory, chemical, and tactile cues in perceiving their environment.

Gerbils have a range of vocalizations that they use to communicate with one another. Young gerbils squeak when their mother enters the nest, grunt when they are resting together or climbing on one another, and they also make a clicking noise. Adult gerbils squeak and sometimes produce a high-pitched rattle. They also are known to drum their hind feet on the ground. Gerbillines communicate with one another through chemical means, as well, using pheromones to signal reproductive and social status. Male gerbillines communicate territory ownership by scent-marking with their large ventral sebaceous glands.

Communication Channels: acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks ; vibrations

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

Most gerbillines do not live longer than three or four months in the wild. In captivity, some gerbillines have been known to live as long as eight years.

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Reproduction

During mating, copulatory plugs form in the reproductive tracts of females that hinder subsequent matings. The presence of these copulatory plugs suggests a polygynandrous mating system.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Some gerbilline species breed year-round, and some breed seasonally. Females of most species are polyestrus and are able to bear multiple litters in a year. Some also experience a postpartum estrus and delayed implantation, such that a new litter begins developing as soon as the first is weaned. Gestation periods, if females are not lactating, last three to four weeks, longer if lactating. Overall, litter sizes range from 1 to 13, although litters of 4 to 7 are much more common. Young gerbils are born completely naked and blind. They begin to grow fur between 8 and 13 days after birth, and are fully furred at 13 to 16 days. Eyes open about two or three weeks after birth. The young can walk quickly and hop about on all fours at about three weeks. At around one month of age, the young are weaned and independent; they reach sexual maturity at 10 to 16 weeks.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous ; delayed implantation ; post-partum estrous

Female gerbils brood their young until the young are about 30 days old. When brooding, they stand on all fours with their feet splayed out around the litter. Gerbil mothers are known to move their young to new nests several times for the first couple of days after birth, and also to switch burrows between litters. When they leave the young in the nest to go out foraging, they sometimes cover their brood with grass and sand and block up the nest entrance. Females carry their young by gripping them around the midsection in their mouths. Once the young are able to move around more, mothers grab them by their tails and pull them near, then carry the young back to the nest. They stop retrieving their young when the young are between 17 and 23 days old. Mothers frequently groom their young; licking the neonates' hindquarters to stimulate them to produce urine and feces, which the mothers then consume. Gerbil mothers groom their litters until the young go off on their own; the young of some species begin grooming each other and their mothers 25 days after birth.  Males of some species brood and groom their young in the same manner as females.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, vol. 2. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Dempster, E., M. Perrin. 1989. Maternal behavior and neonatal development in three species of Namib Desert rodents. Journal of Zoology, 218 (3): 407-420.
  • Carleton, M., G. Musser. 1984. Muroid rodents. Pp. 289-379 in S Anderson, J Jones Jr., eds. Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records:672
Specimens with Sequences:459
Specimens with Barcodes:418
Species:21
Species With Barcodes:17
Public Records:59
Public Species:3
Public BINs:4
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Barcode data

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Conservation

Conservation Status

Currently, 35 gerbilline species are on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. This includes one critically endangered species (Cheng's jirds, Meriones chengi), four endangered species (Arabian jirds, Meriones arimalius, Dahl's jirds, Meriones dahli, Buxton's jirds, Meriones sacramenti, and Zarudny's jirds, Meriones zarudnyi), two vulnerable species (western gerbils, Gerbillus hesperinus, and Allenby's gerbils, Gerbillus andersoni allenbyi), one near threatened species (Hoogstral's gerbils, Gerbillus hoogstraali), one lower risk species (large Aden gerbils, Gerbillus poecilops), and 26 species that lack data. Research efforts are needed to establish the status of those species for which little is known.

  • IUCN, 2004. "2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed June 09, 2005 at www.redlist.org.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Some gerbillines are considered pest animals in their native ranges, because they destroy crops, damage embankments and irrigation systems with their digging, and spread bubonic plague. There is also concern that captive gerbils may escape and establish feral populations, which could outcompete native rodents.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); crop pest

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Gerbillines, especially Meriones unguiculatus, are clean, easy to take care of, and breed readily in captivity. For these reasons, they are used in many laboratories for medical, physiological, and psychological research. They are also popular pets. Other gerbilline species are trapped for their skins.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; body parts are source of valuable material; research and education

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Wikipedia

Gerbil

For other uses, see Gerbil (disambiguation).

A gerbil is a small mammal of the order Rodentia. Once known simply as "desert rats", the gerbil subfamily includes about 110 species of African, Indian, and Asian rodents, including sand rats and jirds, all of which are adapted to arid habitats. Most are primarily diurnal [1] (though some, including the common household pet, do exhibit crepuscular behavior), and almost all are omnivorous.

The word "gerbil" is a diminutive form of "jerboa", though the jerboas are an unrelated group of rodents occupying a similar ecological niche.

One Mongolian species, Meriones unguiculatus, also known as the clawed jird, is a gentle and hardy animal that has become a popular pet. It was first brought from China to Paris, France in the 19th century, and became a popular house pet.[2] It was then brought to the United States in 1954 by Dr. Victor Schwentker for use in research.[3]

Gerbils are typically between six and 12 inches (150 and 300 mm) long, including the tail, which makes up about one-half of their total length. One species, the great gerbil, or Rhombomys opimus, originally native to Turkmenistan, can grow to more than 16 inches (400 mm). The average adult gerbil weighs about 2.5 oz. (70 g).

Behavior[edit]

A young gerbil sitting by the food bowl to eat

Gerbils are social animals, and live in groups in the wild.[4] They rely on their sense of smell to identify other members of their clan, so it is important to use what is commonly referred to as the "split tank method" when introducing gerbils from separate litters[citation needed]. Gerbils are known to attack and often kill those carrying an unfamiliar scent.[5]

Classification[edit]

SUBFAMILY GERBILLINAE

Gerbils as pets[edit]

Gerbils were first introduced to the pet industry in 1964. These were the Mongolian gerbils. Their value as pets was soon appreciated and they are now found in pet shops all over the UK and USA. Due to the threat they pose to indigenous ecosystems and existing agricultural operations, it is illegal to purchase, import, or keep a gerbil as a pet in the US state of California.[6]

Housing in captivity[edit]

A common misunderstanding when purchasing a home for pet gerbils is they can live in housing designed for hamsters and mice. This is not correct, as they need to be able to dig tunnel systems, rather than have them created for them. The commonly plastic structure of hamster and mouse cages is inappropriate for gerbils due to their ability to gnaw through it very quickly. Plastic can cause serious health issues for the animal if ingested, therefore many owners refrain from having any plastic in the tank and rely entirely on wooden toys.[7] Information from gerbil societies from throughout the globe is conflicting with regards to tank sizing. However, a common minimum given appears to be 10 imperial gallons per gerbil.[8]

Mating[edit]

Gerbils will mate for several hours, in frequent short bursts followed by short chases, when the female allows the male to catch her. Once he catches her, the female will squeak and make flick motions to get the male off her. Males will not attack females except in rare circumstances, which may also include them having been separated from their original mates, or widowed. A female may attack a male, but usually he is more than a match for her.[9]

Reasons for popularity[edit]

The several reasons for the popularity of gerbils as household pets include: The animals are typically not aggressive, and they rarely bite unprovoked or without stress. They are small and easy to handle, since they are sociable creatures that enjoy the company of humans and other gerbils.[10][11] Gerbils also have adapted their kidneys to produce a minimum of waste to conserve body fluids, which makes them very clean with little odor.

Health concerns[edit]

Teeth problems[edit]

Misalignment of incisors due to injury or malnutrition may result in overgrowth, which can cause injury to the roof of the mouth. Symptoms include a dropped or loss of appetite, drooling, weight loss, or foul breath.[12] The teeth must be clipped by a veterinarian regularly for as long as required.

Trauma[edit]

Common injuries are caused by gerbils being dropped or falling, often while inside of a hamster ball, which can cause broken limbs or a fractured spine (for which there is no cure).[12][13]

Neglect[edit]

A common problem for all small rodents is neglect, which can cause the gerbils to not receive adequate food and water, causing serious health concerns, including dehydration, starvation, stomach ulcers, eating of bedding material, and cannibalism.[12]

Epilepsy[edit]

Between 20 and 50% of all pet gerbils have the seizure disorder epilepsy.[14] The seizures are thought to be caused by fright, handling, or a new environment. The attacks can be mild to severe, but do not typically appear to have any long-term effects, except for rare cases where death results from very severe seizures.[15] A way to prevent a gerbil from having a seizure is to refrain from blowing in the animal's face (often used to "train" the pet not to bite). This technique is used in a lab environment to induce seizures for medical research.[16]

Tumors[edit]

Tumors, both benign and malignant, are fairly common in pet gerbils, and are most common in females over the age of two. Usually, the tumors involve the ovaries, causing an extended abdomen, or the skin, with tumors most often developing around the ears, feet, midabdomen, and base of the tail, appearing as a lump or abscess.[15] The scent gland (positioned on the abdomen) should be checked regularly; a veterinarian can operate on the lump where possible.[17]

Tail sloughing[edit]

Gerbils can lose their tails due to improper handling, being attacked by another animal, or getting their tails stuck. The first sign is a loss of fur from the tip of the tail, then, the skinless tail dies off and sloughs, with the stump usually healing without complications.[15]

Tyzzer's disease[edit]

The most common infectious disease in gerbils is Tyzzer's disease, which is often caused by either stress or bacteria, and produces symptoms such as ruffled fur, lethargy, hunched posture, poor appetite, diarrhoea, and often death. It quickly spreads between gerbils in close contact.[15]

Deafness and inner ear problems[edit]

A problem with the inner ear can be spotted by a gerbil leaning to one side quite obviously. The fluids in the ears affect balance. However, this does not appear to affect the gerbils too much, which have an aptitude of just getting on with things, and getting used to their conditions. Gerbils with "extreme white spotting" colouring are susceptible to deafness; this is thought to be due to the lack of pigmentation in and around the ear.[18]

Captive-bred gerbils[edit]

A Burmese colored gerbil
A male and female fat-tailed gerbil (Pachyuromys duprasi)

Many color varieties of gerbils are available in pet shops today, generally the result of years of selective breeding.

Over 20 different coat colors occur in the Mongolian gerbil, which has been captive-bred the longest.[19]

Another species of gerbil has also been recently introduced to the pet industry: the fat-tailed gerbil, or duprasi. They are smaller than the common Mongolian gerbils, and have long, soft coats and short, fat tails, appearing more like a hamster. The variation on the normal duprasi coat is more gray in color, which may be a mutation, or it may be the result of hybrids between the Egyptian and Algerian subspecies of duprasi.[20][21]

White spotting has been reported in not only the Mongolian gerbil, but also the pallid gerbil[22] and possibly Sundervall's Jird.[23]

A long-haired mutation, a grey agouti or chinchilla mutation, white spotting, and possibly a dilute mutation have also appeared in Shaw's jirds,[24] and white spotting and a dilute mutation have shown up in Bushy-tailed Jirds.[25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ http://www.huisdiereninfo.nl/content/gerbils.php
  3. ^ Schwentker, V. "The Gerbil. A new laboratory animal." Ill Vet 6: 5-9, 1963.
  4. ^ http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+2107+2254&aid=1622
  5. ^ http://www.egerbil.com/splittank.html
  6. ^ See 14 Cal. Code Regs. § 671(c)(2)(J). The prohibition imposed by the California Fish and Game Commission also applies to all other members of order Rodentia, except for "domesticated races" of rats, mice, golden hamsters, guinea pigs, and chinchillas.
  7. ^ http://egerbil.com/tanks.html
  8. ^ http://www.egerbil.com/housing.html
  9. ^ http://www.gerbilbreeding.com/mating.htm
  10. ^ Behaviour. The Gerbil Information Page. Ed. Karin van Veen. Nov. 2001. Dutch Gerbil Study Group. Gerbil Genetics Group.
  11. ^ Gerbil Care Handbook. The American Gerbil Society.
  12. ^ a b c Hamsters - Medical Concerns
  13. ^ Gerbil FAQ
  14. ^ Gerbil Care
  15. ^ a b c d Michigan Humane Society: Veterinary Care
  16. ^ http://www.springerlink.com/content/y233811273x4385h/
  17. ^ http://www.egerbil.com/gerbil_scent_gland_surgery
  18. ^ http://www.egerbil.com/extremespot.html
  19. ^ Anastasi, Donna. Gerbils: The Complete Guide to Gerbil Care. Irvine: Bowtie Press, 2005.
  20. ^ "Fat-Tailed Gerbil (Duprasi)." The Gerbil Information Page. Ed. Karin van Veen. Nov. 2001. Dutch Gerbil Study Group. Gerbil Genetics Group. <http://www.gerbil-info.com/html/otherduprasiuk.htm>.
  21. ^ "Pachyuromys duprasis — Fat Tailed Gerbil."e-Gerbil. Ed. Eddie Cope. 2006. <http://www.egerbil.com/duprasi.html>.
  22. ^ "The Pallid Gerbil — Gerbillus perpallidus."e-Gerbil. Ed. Eddie Cope. 2006. <http://www.egerbil.com/pallid.html>.
  23. ^ "Gerbil Genetics."NGS Frontpage. Ed. Julian Barker. 30 Nov. 2004. The National Gerbil Society.<http://www.gerbils.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/gerbils/genetics.htm#Mutations>
  24. ^ "Care and management of Shaw's Jirds — Meriones shawi."e-Gerbil. Ed. Eddie Cope. 2006. <http://www.egerbil.com/shawsjird.html>.
  25. ^ "Sekeetamys calurus — Bushy Tailed Jirds."e-Gerbil. Ed. Eddie Cope. 2006. <http://www.egerbil.com/bushy.html>.

Resources[edit]

  • McKenna, M. C. and S. K. Bell. 1997. Classification of Mammals above the Species Level. Columbia University Press, New York.
  • Musser, G. G. and M. D. Carleton. 1993. Family Muridae. Pp. 501–755 in Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder eds. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.
  • Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Vol. 2. Johns Hopkins University Press, London.
  • Pavlinov, I. Ya., Yu. A. Dubrovskiy, O. L. Rossolimo, E. G. Potapova. 1990. Gerbils of the world. Nauka, Moscow.
  • http://www.research.usf.edu/cm/CMDC/C111_Normative_Biology_Diseases_Gerbils_7_03.pdf
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