Groovy Facts about Gerbils


Tenacious Furry Fierceness in the Palm of Your Hand

Gerbils are interesting creatures. They are adorable, yes, but surprisingly athletic, clean, resilient members of the rodent family. The Mongolian gerbil is the species most commonly kept as a pet, and their natural habitat is Asia and Africa and part of India. In the wild, gerbils are experts in tunnelling and their burrows can reach nearly 6 ft deep and around 25 ft wide!

The Clawed Warrior

The scientific name of the common Mongolian gerbil is Meriones unguiculates which roughly translates to “clawed warrior”. If you look closely at a gerbil, you’ll notice it does indeed have sharp claws, strong long hind legs and long sharp teeth.

Despite its small size, legends say that Genghis Kahn was once saved from an assassin by a gerbil. Attempting to kill the Kahn in his sleep, the killer was bitten on the foot by a gerbil causing him to cry out, alerting the Emperor. The Kahn adopted the gerbil as his pet, and always carried it with him.

From Imperial Pet to Scientific Breakthrough

Usually pets, we have also turned to these “desert rats” in the name of science and medical research. Their tidy habits and tenacity are admirable qualities, but the gentle gerbil also has unique physical characteristics that researchers find helpful. Their resistance to dehydration is makes them ideal in the lab.

Introduced to the US in 1954 by Dr Schwentker at Tumblebrook Farm, these gerbils are choice models for studies relating to epilepsy, oncology, parasitology, as well as research of cholesterol metabolism. Great medical advancements have been made thanks to these rodents, but their story only gets stranger.

Super Senses Activate!

Gerbils are tiny, furry power packages. Born to chew, dig, jump and explore; gerbils have extremely sensitive ears and noses. Using their hind legs to thump out warning messages, they rub their bellies on things to activate the scent glands there. They also can chew through most materials and should be housed in a glass aquarium in pairs or family groups to keep them safe and happy.

Gerbils are natural explorers and escape artists but are loyal to their family group and will shun or be aggressive to strangers. When keeping gerbils as pets, unless you are breeding them, it’s best to have a same sex pair that have been littermates to avoid hostility. If you can’t get a pair that are litter mates, then vets recommend a divided cage until they have had a chance to get used to one another’s scents.

Small but Mighty Rodents

Nidicolous means born deaf, blind, hairless, and remains in the nest during its first few weeks of life. This makes gerbil pups completely dependent on their parents for food, protection and survival skills lessons. Weighing in at 2.5-3.5 g at birth, the average adult gerbil weighs 2.5 oz or 71 g. Tip to tail, they average 6-12 inches (150-300 mm) with their tail making up half their length.