About Gerbils

Gerbils, small rodents native to arid regions of Asia and Africa, are captivating creatures known for their social behavior and endearing traits. These furry companions belong to the subfamily Gerbillinae and come in various species, each with its unique features.

Physically, gerbils typically have long tails, soft fur, and large eyes. Their hind legs are designed for jumping, enabling them to move swiftly in their natural desert habitats. Gerbils are highly social animals, preferring to live in groups called clans. This social structure helps them thrive in the wild and can be observed in captivity as well.

What makes gerbils unique?

Gerbils are unique creatures with several distinctive features that set them apart in the animal kingdom. One notable trait is their social behavior. Unlike some solitary rodents, gerbils thrive in a group setting and exhibit strong social bonds. They form tight-knit communities called clans, where individuals live, play, and groom each other.

Another unique aspect of gerbils is their remarkable digging and burrowing behavior. In the wild, gerbils create complex tunnel systems for shelter and protection. This instinct remains strong in captivity, and pet gerbils often display enthusiastic digging behaviors when provided with appropriate bedding and structures.

Reproduction is a fascinating aspect of gerbil uniqueness. They have a relatively short gestation period, and female gerbils can give birth to large litters. What makes this process intriguing is the cooperative parenting within the clan. Both parents actively participate in caring for the pups, reflecting a communal approach to raising the next generation.

Gerbils’ physical characteristics also contribute to their uniqueness. With their long tails, soft fur, and large eyes, gerbils are charming in appearance. Their hind legs are adapted for jumping, allowing them to move with agility in their natural desert habitats.

Overall, the combination of social tendencies, intricate burrowing behavior, cooperative parenting, and physical features makes gerbils a unique and endearing species within the rodent family.

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Types of Gerbils

Desert Kangaroo Rat

Fat Sand Rat

Great Gerbil

Mongolian Gerbil


1. What is the largest gerbil species in the world?

The Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus) holds the title for being the largest gerbil species in the world. This species is native to the semi-arid regions of Mongolia and China. In terms of size, Mongolian gerbils typically have a body length ranging from 4 to 5 inches (10 to 13 centimeters) and a tail length of about 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 centimeters). Their overall size, combined with their unique characteristics, makes them a popular choice as pets.

It’s worth noting that the world of gerbils includes various species, each with its own characteristics and sizes. While the Mongolian gerbil is the largest, other species, like the fat-tailed gerbil (Pachyuromys duprasi) and the great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus), exhibit distinct features and behaviors, contributing to the diversity within the gerbil family.

2. What is the smallest gerbil species in the world?

The smallest gerbil species is the Pygmy Gerbil (Microdillus peeli). Native to the arid regions of Africa, specifically in Somalia and Ethiopia, these tiny gerbils are well-adapted to survive in harsh environments. They have a notably small size, with a body length typically ranging from 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) and a short, furry tail.

Despite their diminutive size, Pygmy Gerbils are well-suited to their habitats, where they display unique behaviors and adaptations for survival. Their compact size allows them to navigate the intricacies of their arid surroundings with agility, making them a fascinating and distinctive member of the gerbil family.

3. How do gerbils reproduce?

Gerbils reproduce through a process called sexual reproduction. In the wild or as pets, gerbils follow a natural breeding cycle. Here’s a simplified overview of their reproductive process:

Sexual Maturity: Gerbils typically reach sexual maturity around 8 to 12 weeks of age, depending on the species. At this point, they become capable of breeding.

Pairing: Gerbils are social animals and often live in pairs or groups. If you plan to breed gerbils, it’s essential to introduce a male and female into the same enclosure.

Courtship and Mating: Gerbils engage in courtship rituals, involving scent marking, grooming, and playful interactions. When ready to mate, the female assumes a receptive posture, and mating occurs. The gestation period, the time the female is pregnant, lasts about 24 days.

Birth: Gerbil litters typically consist of 4 to 6 pups, but the exact number can vary. The pups are born hairless and with closed eyes, requiring care and protection from the parents.

Weaning: After about three weeks, the pups begin to open their eyes, grow fur, and start eating solid food. They are weaned from their mother’s milk.

Independence: As the pups mature, they become more independent, eventually reaching sexual maturity and continuing the reproductive cycle.

It’s crucial to manage breeding responsibly to prevent overpopulation and ensure the well-being of the gerbils.

4. What do gerbils eat?

Gerbils are omnivores with a diverse diet. In the wild, they consume a variety of seeds, grains, fruits, and insects. When kept as pets, it’s essential to provide a balanced and nutritionally complete diet. Here’s a breakdown of what gerbils eat:

1. Commercial Gerbil Pellets: These are specially formulated pellets that provide essential nutrients. Ensure they are high-quality and specifically designed for gerbils.

2. Fresh Vegetables: Offer a variety of fresh vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, spinach, and kale. These contribute to their vitamin and mineral intake.

3. Fresh Fruits: Occasional treats of fruits like apples, pears, and berries can be provided. However, fruits should be given in moderation due to their sugar content.

4. Seeds and Grains: Gerbils enjoy a mix of seeds and grains, including sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and oats. These mimic their natural diet.

5. Hay: High-quality hay is essential for dental health and provides fiber for proper digestion. Timothy hay is a suitable choice.

6. Insects and Mealworms: Gerbils are insectivores in the wild, so providing occasional treats like mealworms or crickets can be a good protein source.

7. Fresh Water: Ensure a constant supply of fresh, clean water is available. Use a water bottle to prevent spillage.

Avoid feeding them sugary or salty foods, as these can be harmful. Additionally, always introduce new foods gradually to prevent digestive issues. Providing a varied and balanced diet is key to keeping gerbils healthy and happy.

5. What is the difference between a gerbil and a hamster?

Gerbils and hamsters are both popular small pets, but there are notable differences between the two:

  1. Social Behavior:
    • Gerbils: Gerbils are highly social animals and thrive in pairs or groups. They enjoy the company of their own kind and may become stressed or lonely if kept alone.
    • Hamsters: Hamsters, on the other hand, are generally solitary creatures. They prefer to live alone and can become territorial, especially as they age.
  2. Lifespan:
    • Gerbils: Gerbils usually have a longer lifespan, ranging from 2 to 4 years.
    • Hamsters: Hamsters have a shorter lifespan, typically living around 2 to 3 years.
  3. Activity Levels:
    • Gerbils: Gerbils are active during the day and enjoy playing, digging, and exploring.
    • Hamsters: Hamsters are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. They may be less active during the day.
  4. Diet:
    • Gerbils: Gerbils have specific dietary needs, including a mix of seeds, grains, vegetables, and some protein.
    • Hamsters: Hamsters have a more varied diet, including commercial hamster food, fresh fruits, vegetables, and occasional protein sources like mealworms.
  5. Nesting Behavior:
    • Gerbils: Gerbils are known for their burrowing and nesting behaviors. They enjoy creating elaborate tunnels and nests.
    • Hamsters: Hamsters also enjoy burrowing but may not exhibit the same level of social nesting behaviors as gerbils.
  6. Tail:
    • Gerbils: Gerbils have long, tufted tails.
    • Hamsters: Hamsters have shorter, furry tails.

When choosing between a gerbil and a hamster, it’s essential to consider your preferences, the level of interaction you desire, and the type of care you’re willing to provide. Both can make delightful pets with proper care and attention.

6. What is the difference between a gerbil and a guinea pig?

Gerbils and guinea pigs are distinct small rodents with differences in size, behavior, and care requirements. Gerbils are typically smaller, more active, and social animals that thrive in pairs or groups. They have a long tail, a furry coat, and are known for their digging behavior.

On the other hand, guinea pigs are larger, with a stout body and no tail. They are known for their sociable nature and may enjoy human interaction. Guinea pigs have specific dietary needs, including a requirement for vitamin C, and they thrive in spacious enclosures.

In summary, while both are small rodents often kept as pets, gerbils are smaller, more active, and can be housed in pairs or groups, whereas guinea pigs are larger, sociable animals with distinct dietary needs.

7. What is the difference between a gerbil and a mouse?

Gerbils and mice are both small rodents, but they have several differences in terms of size, appearance, and behavior. Gerbils are generally larger than mice, with a more robust body and a long, tufted tail. Mice, in contrast, have a slender body and a long, thin tail. Gerbils are known for their hind legs, adapted for hopping and jumping, while mice are skilled climbers.

Behaviorally, gerbils are social animals that thrive in pairs or groups, while mice can be social but may also display territorial behaviors. Gerbils are active during the day and night, displaying bursts of energy, whereas mice are typically nocturnal.

In terms of care, gerbils and mice have similar dietary needs, but their housing requirements may differ. Gerbils often enjoy digging, so providing substrate for burrowing is beneficial, while mice may prefer climbing structures.

In summary, gerbils are larger, more robust, and social animals that enjoy burrowing, while mice are smaller, more slender, and can exhibit both social and territorial behaviors with a preference for climbing.

  • Burnie, David & Wilson, Don, Animal, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.
  • Hickman et al, Integrated Principle of Zoology, McGraw Hill, Boston.