The Mongolian Gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus) is a small rodent belonging to the subfamily Gerbillinae. Body size is typically 110 – 135 mm, with a 95 – 120 mm tail, and bodyweight 60 – 130 g, with adult males larger than females. The animal is used in science and kept as a small house pet.
Mongolian Gerbils inhabit grassland, shrubland and desert, including semidesert and steppes in China, Mongolia, and the Russian Federation.
The soil on the steppes is sandy and is covered with grasses, herbs, and shrubs. The steppes have cool, dry winters and hot summers. The temperature can get up to 50 °C (122 °F), but the average temperature for most of the year is around 20 °C (68 °F).
In the wild, these gerbils live in patriarchal groups generally consisting of one parental pair, the most recent litter, and a few older pups, sometimes the dominant female’s sisters also live with them. Only the dominant females will produce pups, they will mate only with the dominant male while in estrus (heat), female gerbils are generally more loyal than male gerbils. One group of gerbils generally ranges over 325 – 1,550 square metres (0.08 – 0.38 acres).
A group lives in a central burrow with 10 – 20 exits. Some deeper burrows with only one to three exits in their territory may exist. These deeper burrows are used to escape from predators when they are too far from the central burrow. A group’s burrows often interconnect with other groups.
Gerbils have a wide hearing range, from detection of low-frequency foot drumming to higher frequency chirps and therefore may be a more suitable model of human hearing loss than mice and rats, which are high-frequency specialists.
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» (or splitcaging) when introducing gerbils from separate litters.
A gentle and hardy animal, the Mongolian Gerbil has become a popular small house pet. Selective breeding for the pet trade has resulted in a wide range of different colour and pattern varieties.
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. Gerbils also have adapted their kidneys to produce a minimum of waste to conserve body fluids, which makes them very clean with little odour.