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Last updated date: 27th Feb 2024
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What is a Gerbil?

A gerbil belongs to the family of rodents. About 110 species of gerbils can be found today. They can adapt to arid habitats. There was a time when gerbils were referred to as wild rats. Most of the gerbils are diurnal whereas, some of them can be crepuscular. This rodent is a native of Central Asia, India, the Middle East, and Africa. The gerbil generally has an average length between six to twelve inches, with the gerbil tail included. This tail takes up approximately one half of the total length. It is noticed that gerbils are a very common household pet.

The size of gerbils is smaller than that of rats but bigger than that of mice. It is seen that their size mainly depends on the species. These rodents have a tail with hair that ends with a tassel. Generally, they are five to six inches in length but with the tail, their size becomes around eleven to twelve inches.

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Indian Gerbil

The Indian gerbil is also known as the ‘antelope rat.’ They are a species of rodents and belong to the Muridae family. They are found vastly in the south Asian countries from Syria to Bangladesh. They are the only species that are present in the genus Tatera. It is seen that the members belonging to the genus Gerbilliscus have historically been placed in Tatera.

The length of the antelope rat’s head and body can be approximately 17-20 cm. The length of their tail is roughly 20-21 cm. Their dorsal surface that includes their entire head is brown or light brown coloured with a rusty wash, and white underparts. The tails are fully furry with a dark blackish brown colour, with greyish sides and a prominent black tuft present on its tip. The fur on their body is soft and sparse underneath. The fur on their tail is longer. They have large and prominent eyes.

Their reproduction is dioecious. The females of these species provide care. 

These species are nocturnal and omnivorous. They are solitary. It is noticed that these species live for roughly 84 months. They are known to feed on grains, seeds, plants, roots, insects, reptiles, and even birds of small size. They also eat mammals that they can catch.

Mongolian Gerbil

The Mongolian gerbil, also known as a Mongolian jird, is a small rodent that belongs to the subfamily Gerbillinae. The body size of this species is roughly around 110-135 mm, with a bodyweight of 60-130 g and a tail that is 95-120 mm long. The adult males are considerably larger than the females. This animal was used in scientific research at a time, but now it has fallen out of favour. This rodent is used as a pet also. 

Mongolian gerbils typically live around grassland, shrubland, and desert, and also including semi-desert and steppes in China, Mongolia, and the Russian Federation. 

The Mongolian gerbil is a pretty popular house pet. It was first brought to Paris from China in the 19th century, where it became the popular house pet. Later, Dr. Victor Schwentker brought it to the United States in 1954 to use it in his research. Soon, Dr. Schwentker noticed their potential as house pets. Gerbils became popular pets in the United States around the late 1950s, and later in 1964, they were imported to the UK, where they also became popular pets. You can now find them in almost every shop in the UK and the US. 

Fat-tailed Gerbil

The fat gerbil is also known as the duprasi gerbil or doop. It is a rodent that belongs to the subfamily Gerbillinae and is the only member of the genus Pachyuromys. These species of gerbil are noticed to be the most docile species from the gerbil subfamily. These species have soft and fluffy fur. Other common English names for this species are fat-tailed jird, fat-tailed rat, and beer mat gerbil. 

This species of gerbil is medium in size. The body length of this species is around 10 cm (4 inches), with its tail about 5 cm (2 inches) long. This species of gerbil has a coat that is thick, soft, and fluffy. The hair present at the back and the head of this gerbil is yellow. The colour of their belly is clear white. These species weigh from 40 to 120 grams. The legs of these species are comparatively short. They have a structure that is similar to that of a dwarf hamster, but unlike hamsters, these species have certain different features like a pointed snout and a fat, nearly bald tail. They tend to store fat in their tails just like the camel stores fat in its hump. It is this tail that distinguishes them from the other species of the gerbil.

Giant Gerbil

The giant gerbils, also known as the great gerbils, are native to Central Asia. They are the largest of gerbils, and their body length is around 15-20 cm (6-8 inches). They have a characteristic skull due to the presence of two grooves in each incisor. Their large front claws are used for burrowing. They are found in arid habitats. They can be found in places in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

They live in family groups, and each family occupies one burrow. These gerbils do not hibernate, but they spend most of their time in burrows during winter. The giant gerbils are mainly diurnal, and they mainly feed on vegetable matter. These animals are generally colonial, and they have a lifespan from around 2-4 years. You can distinguish between inhabited giant gerbil burrows from the abandoned ones using satellite images. They are also known as crop pests and have been involved in worsening erosion.

White Gerbil

Just like in human beings the absence of melanin gives the individual a fairer and whiter skin, a similar thing can be found in animals. When in animals the white colour appears, we see that the animal is usually an albino. This usually happens when the animal is also seen in other colours and patterns, but also they can appear in white. Albinism is the outcome of a certain genetic mutation that gets rid of the melanin pigment. 

You can find white gerbils, with pink or red eyes just like in albinos. But these white gerbils are not albinos. Instead, the change in their coat colour is a result of some other complicated genetic changes. 

The colour of these gerbils is pure white. They might look like lab mice but they have the shape of gerbils. You can also find gerbils in a colour range between regular agouti and white, such as cream or nutmeg. You can find a white gerbil with either red or pink eyes. 

It is also possible to find white gerbils with black eyes. These are called black-eyed whites, or BEWs. You will not find them in every pet shop because white gerbils are generally found across the United States.

Which Gerbil Colour is Said to Be the Rarest?

You cannot call any colour, pattern, or colour and pattern combo the rarest. This is because what is ‘rare’ totally depends on where you live. Some kinds of gerbil may be rare in some places, whereas other types of gerbil can be pretty common in that place. 

Golden agoutis are very common, and you can find them everywhere you go. They are available at almost every pet store.

Also, the word ‘rare’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean ‘good.’ You can find a kind of gerbil called the extreme white gerbil that has a coat that is 90% white. This white is pure and very clean compared to the other types of white gerbils. So thinking they are unique and rare, you might like to pet one. But this is not a good idea. It is noticed that extreme white gerbils have health concerns that are not found in normal ones. They can experience something called a head tilt, for instance where they cannot balance themselves properly. The behaviour of these gerbils is also found to be pretty unusual.


Gerbils are small rodents that belong to the subfamily Gerbillinae. They are common house pets. However, due to the threats posed to the indigenous ecosystems and existing agricultural operations, it has become illegal to purchase, import, or keep this rodent as a pet in the US states of California. In New Zealand also it has become illegal to import this animal.

FAQs on Gerbil

Q1. Write about the Lifespan, Origin, and Food of the Fat-Tailed Gerbils.

Captive specimens of these gerbils have an average life span ranging from 2 to 4 years, although in some reports these species have lived an age of as much as 7 years. The ones that stay in the wild are unlikely to reach this age.

These species have been originally found in the Northern Sahara. In such places, these gerbils live in sparsely vegetated sand sheets or rocky deserts. In the wild, they live in simple burrows that are around one meter deep, in hard sandy soil. They can also settle in burrows of other species. 

These species, as their pointed snout suggests, are generally insectivorous in the wild, and they will also eat a variety of plants. In captivity, these species are given a normal basic rodent mix which is also fed by Mangolian gerbils and hamsters. They are usually fond of mealworms, crickets, moths, and also other insects such as beetles. They can also feed on vegetables and fruits such as carrots, cauliflowers, chicory, and apples.

Q2. What are Hamster and Gerbil Balls? How Can Injuries Be Minimized with These at Home?

Hamster balls are hollow spheres made of plastic into which a gerbil or other rodents like a hamster or degus is placed. They can run around inside the ball (and out of its cage) without any risk of getting lost under furniture or running away. These are designed specifically for these rodent pets to help them to exercise. Most of these balls are made up of durable transparent plastic material with air holes present. There is also the presence of a small door or lid that allows the owner to either insert or remove from the gerbil ball.

Although these balls are designed to protect gerbils and other pets from injury, sometimes there are certain risks. These risks include stairs or any other high places from which the tiny pet can fall, which can result in serious injury or even death. To prevent such accidents, owners can place these balls on any lower level of their house, away from the staircase.

Q3. Write about the “Hairless” Gerbil: a New Mutant, 1980.

The hairless gerbil was a new mutant. Although the gerbil looked bald, its smooth warm skin was covered by fine stubble. The nails appeared normal. The ventral scent gland and the nipples of this gerbil were well developed. The female was fertile and had several litters, but none of the litters showed this mutation. Her parents also gave birth to two other hairless gerbils in subsequent litters, but neither of these two survived the past 5 weeks. Histological examination showed marked pathology of development of hair, though the follicle number seemed pretty normal. It was noticed that the thymus was disorganized, and was sparsely populated with lymphocytes. 

Q4. Write Briefly about Gerbils.

The weight of an adult gerbil can be around 2 to 3 ounces (50 to 90 grams). A male gerbil is noticed to be slightly larger than a female gerbil. The colour of the coats of gerbils in the wild is agouti, or a mix of grey, yellow, and black, with an off-white coloured belly. It is seen that breeding has produced gerbils of a variety of colours. They have a size similar to that of mice. Their bodies measure around 4 inches (10 cm), and their tails can add an extra 3 inches (8 cm). The lifespan of a gerbil is typically 2-3 years. The ventral marking gland is present in both the male and the female on their abdomen. This gland enlarges during puberty and produces a secretion that is oily in males. This might be a way by which male gerbils mark their territory, as they can sometimes be seen rubbing their abdomen on certain objects.