Scientific classification: Gerbils belong to the family Cricetidae. The Mongolian gerbil is classified as Meriones unguiculatus.
Gerbil are small rodent resembling a mouse with long back legs. Gerbil is the common name for any of several small, burrowing rodents that have soft, sand-colored fur, a mouselike face, and long hind legs that enable them to leap about like rodents such as jerboas and kangaroo rats. Gerbils are 5 to 20 cm (2 to 8 in) long, excluding the tufted tail, baby gerbils which is 4 to 24 cm (2 to 9 in) in length. Sometimes called sand rats or desert rats, gerbils are found in the dry, sandy areas and grasslands of western Asia and Africa. Colonies usually live together in a tunnel that varies from a single short burrow to multiple intersecting tunnels. The animals plug the entrance of the tunnel with earth to retain moisture. Most species are active at night and feed on seeds, grasses, nuts, insects, and roots. They require little water.
The Mongolian gerbil became a popular pet after it was introduced as a laboratory animal. It is clean, active, and friendly.Gerbils may live four to eight years in captivity, baby gerbils depending on the species. Litters of 1 to 14 young are born as often as once a month during the first two years. About 12 genera and more than 70 species are known.
Gerbils are social animals, and live in groups in the wild. 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. Gerbils are known to attack and often kill those carrying an unfamiliar scent.
Gerbils as pets
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.
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, baby gerbils 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.