What are the differences between a gerbil and a jerboa?

The gerbil and the jerboa are part of the order of rodents. This is where their similarity ends. Whether it’s their family, physical appearance, habitat, or character, the two animals have nothing in common. What are the differences between a gerbil and a jerboa? Answers below.

Gerbil and Gerboise Identity Card

  • The gerbil belongs to the family of muridae, like the rat and the mouse. There are about fifteen genera of gerbils, themselves subdivided into different species. Examples of genres:
    • Meriones (including the Mongolian gerbil, the most common pet);
    • Brachiones (of which the Przewalski’s gerbil is the only representative);
    • Dipodillus (small short-tailed gerbil, Wagner’s gerbil, etc.)
    • Gerbillus (field gerbil, Ethiopian gerbil, dwarf gerbil, etc.).
  • The jerboa is part of the family of dipodidae which brings together about thirty genres among which we can cite:
    • Jaculus (steppe jerkin, large jerkin, Blanford jerkin, etc.);
    • Allactaga (Gobi jerboa, Siberian jerboa, four-fingered jerbo, small jerkin, etc.);
    • Dipus (jerkin with rough legs, only representative);
    • Euchoreutes (long-eared jerkin, only representative).

Description of the gerbil and the jerboa

  • The gerbil features a face reminiscent of the rat and hamster. In nature, the gerbil displays shades of beige which blend in with the color of the ground and thus help him to protect himself from his enemies. The breeders have expanded the color palette and we now find the animal with a brown, slate, gray or White. The gerbil has a tail as long as its body, completely covered in soft hair with a small feather duster at the end. Its tail presents the peculiarity of se detach if it is seized by a predator but unlike that of the lizard, it does not grow back. Its four legs – each with five fingers – are more short at the front than at the back. The female weighs 70 to 100 g and the male 80 to 110 g. The gerbil measures 10 to 14 cm without counting the tail which can reach 12 cm.
  • The jerboa has a thin head with large ears and large vibrissae. The color of its coat is similar to that of the sand, thus offering it a perfect camouflage in its desert environment. The animal is distinguished by hind legs overdeveloped making it look like a mini-kangaroo (gerboise or yerbo in Arabic means “big thighs”). The rodent, considered as a biped, uses its hind legs for walking or jumping and its front legs for feeding, digging or grooming. Its powerful musculature allows it to perform leaps 2 meters and run at a speed approaching 25 km / h. His bared tail, longer than his body, ends with a large brush of hair. The jerboa measures 10 to 15 cm (its tail 15 to 25 cm) and depending on the species, it weighs 50 to 200 g.


Gerbil and Gerboise distribution area

  • The gerbil is found in areas semi-desert from Africa, Russia, China, India and countries of the Middle East (Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran…). As seen previously, the most common variety in French breeding is the gerbil of Mongolia. In the wild, she lives in colonies dozens of individuals and digs vast underground networks made up of a burrow from which many galleries and reservations of food.
  • The jerboa is from deserts from Asia and North Africa. Depending on the species, it also frequents coniferous forests or the steppe, but always in laughed at. Its habitat consists of a burrow reaching a depth of about 2 m that it digs into the sand with its small front paws which it uses like hands.

Gerbil and Gerboise Feeding

  • The gerbil Mongolian, when found in nature, diets omnivorous with herbivorous tendency (leaves, twigs, roots and seeds). To her vegetarian menu, she adds insects, lizards, frogs, chicks and sometimes small snakes. To survive in winter when food becomes scarce, the rodent stores grains and other plant matter in its burrow. Perfectly adapted to arid regions, the gerbil drinks very little and hydrates mainly with the water present in the plants.
  • The jerboa is vegetarian and composes his meals mainly with dried fruits, dry grass, roots, grasses and seeds. She supplements her nutritional intake with insects that provide her with the animal proteins her body needs. The small rodent can also survive with very little water. Unlike gerbils, the jerboa does not provide food reserves in its burrow.

Gerbil and Gerboise Lifestyle

  • The gerbil spends a lot of time underground and, like all subterranean creatures, has poor eyesight. On the other hand, she shares in common with her cousin the rat a smell particularly sharp (forty times greater than that of a dog). In addition, the rodent has a developed hearing, especially in the range of ultrasound. This ability allows him to locate his congeners and predators. By helping to detect danger, his good hearing is his only weapon of survival. The gerbil is a very gregarious and monogamous (except in captivity), which always evolves in groups.
  • The jerboa only comes out at night and therefore waits for dusk to go in search of prey. She then spends the day resting at the bottom of her burrow where the temperature is more bearable than in the desert. Unlike the gerbil, the jerboa is not gregarious and does not form colonies with its mates. Outside the breeding season, this nocturnal animal lives in solitary and winters when the cold arises.

Domestication of the gerbil and the jerboa

  • The gerbil has a lively, sociable, playful character and tolerates fairly well manipulations. It remains a small animal nonetheless brittle which requires to be properly taken in hand, gently and without abruptness (beware of young children). To be able to caress her freely, you will have to be very respectful of her needs. Not used to living with humans, the gerbil will require patience for its taming. Once her confidence has been gained, she will gladly lend herself to hugs. Keep in mind that this gregarious species must imperatively cohabit with a congener, at least (more is even better). In captivity, the Mongolian gerbil can reach 5-7 years.
  • The jerboaconversely, lives with difficulty in captivity. Most attempts at domestication have failed because it is impossible to reunite the living conditions meeting their needs. Outside the desert environment, where it evolves in the wild, the rodent shows a weak resistance physical and wastes away quickly. In addition, when they are extracted from their natural environment, females generally reject their offspring which is then doomed to die. The longevity of these small rodents is estimated at 2 years maximum according to some sources and up to 6 years, according to other sources. Several species of jerboas are now threatened withextinction.

Photo credit n ° 2: Elias Neideck