The gerbils that you’ll find for sale as pets are usually Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus), who originate from North-eastern China. After being studied by scientists in the 1950s, it was found that gerbils have extremely gentle temperaments. As a result, they became popular pets all over Europe.
The average life span of a gerbil is 3 to 4 years, they are quite similar to hamsters though in this sense and can live for much longer.
Distribution and Habitat
In the wild, Mongolian gerbils live in the Mongolian Desert, which spans parts of Northern China and a large part of Russia.
Behaviour in the Wild
As small, burrowing rodents, gerbils live in underground tunnels of up to 2 or 3 metres long, which they dig themselves. These tunnels have lots of entrances and various chambers that are used for nesting and storing food. They tend to live in large colonies and have complex social structures. These tiny rodents are well adapted to living in a harsh desert environment; they can get all the water they need from their food and can withstand extreme temperatures. Gerbils have a diurnal cycle – meaning they’re active during the day. They eat a variety of seeds, grasses and roots.
What’s it like having a pet gerbil?
- Gerbils are friendly. They only bite when very scared or if they feel threatened. A gerbil bite doesn’t hurt as much as a hamster bite.
- Gerbils are entertaining.
- Gerbils are active, day and night.
- Gerbils are desert animals, they have therefore adapted to not drinking and eating much.
- Gerbils produce less urine, meaning they don’t smell.
- Gerbils don’t mind if you wake them up to play at any time during the day.
- Scientists have proven that gerbils can make you feel better just by picking them up.
- Gerbils need a lot of chewing material as their teeth continuously grow through their lives.
- Gerbils like to chew their homes and love digging so hamster cages aren’t always ideal. You may have to buy a cage specifically built for gerbils.
- Gerbils are not as smart as rats. For instance, once a rat learns a navigation route, they never forget it.
- Gerbils are naturally poor in eyesight, this can sometimes be dangerous for them so be very careful with what you put in their way.
- Gerbils are sociable animals, so you may need to purchase another one to keep him/her happy.
Did you know?
If trained properly and rewarded, gerbils can do some tricks and have even been known to perform flips.
The bushy tails of gerbils are believed to be the main reason they are so popular as many people are put off by the harsher tails of rats and mice.
To mark their territory, gerbils will rub their stomachs on items around their cage and when kept it pairs will thump loudly with their feet to show dominance.