The Mongolian Gerbil (Meriones Unguiculatus)

Last Updated : March 6, 2022
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Gerbils have made it into the hearts of millions of people worldwide. And it’s easy to see why:

These tiny fellows are incredibly entertaining, social, and easy to care for. 🐹❤️

But did you know that the vast majority of them originated from Mongolia?

That’s right; most pet gerbils are actually Mongolian Gerbils (Meriones Unguiculatus).

This species became widely popular in the late 50s, and it’s been the most beloved member of the Meriones genus ever since!

In this article, we’ll explore more about M. Unguiculatus and cover a lot of interesting information — things like their life in the wild, their history, and their adorable personalities.

It’s going to be fun!

a brown and white mongolian gerbil eating a seed

Origin of the Mongolian Gerbil

You already know where the Mongolian gerbil comes from thanks to the introduction…

But what you don’t know is that these wild rodents also live in Southern Siberia and Northern China because, well, gerbils don’t need visas to cross borders!

Natural Environment & Habitat

All gerbil-friendly regions share a similarly extreme climate that humans tend to avoid.

The winters are long and cold, the summers are short and insanely hot, and it rarely rains.

These areas are sandy deserts, arid steppes, or vast grasslands.

And these unforgiving conditions leave gerbils with only one option for housing and nest building:

Going underground.

Gerbils build their homes by digging burrows in the soft soil close to the roots of a plant. These burrows usually consist of the following areas:

  • Openings, branches, and levels
  • One round central area with tons of bedding material and nesting material
  • A couple of storerooms for grains and seeds (their favorite winter foods)

Gerbils live in these tunnels in large family groups formed by multiple generations of relatives — a dominant male, a dominant female, their recent litter, and a couple of older pups and other females.

Note:

A Mongolian gerbil is also called a Mongolian jird. The name derives from the Arabic term used in the Middle East to refer to a number of their distant family members.

From Desert Critter To Beloved Pet

How in the world did gerbils make it from an uninhabited territory all the way into our homes?

Rest assured, it was a long trip!

Some legends say that Genghis Khan himself was one of the first gerbil owners, but we’ll never know for sure…

What we do know is that gerbils were only scientifically discovered in the late 1800s thanks to the efforts of a French missionary, Father Armand David. He sent a couple of gerbils back to Paris as an example, and there, they were studied and recorded as a new species.

Over the following decades, they became popular research animals and eventually arrived to the United States via Japan in 1954.

This is when their destiny changed forever.

American scientists realized that gerbils could be fantastic, low-maintenance pets for children, and word got out fast…

In a few short years, gerbils became a mainstay in pet stores and homes, and their journey of world domination was complete. Impressive stuff for a species with such short legs! 🐹

Physical Characteristics

a brown and white gerbil, rodent, on white background

Gerbils are some insanely cute rodents.

Just take a look at their beady eyes, soft fur, tiny legs, and fluffy tail

Convinced yet?

Oh, and by the way, they’re absolutely tiny in size!

An average gerbil is just 4-5″ (10-13 cm) long and 2.5-3.2 oz (70-90 g) in weight, with males usually being slightly larger in size than females.

Now that should’ve done it! 🐹

Anything else worth mentioning?

1. Wild Mongolian gerbils are ‘golden agouti’ colored — their hairs are dark brown with black tips on their backs, light brown on their sides, and white on their bellies.

2. Thanks to selective breeding, pet gerbils come in many other colors like white, black, lilac, and blue.

3. Their surprisingly long tail nearly doubles their overall body length.

4. They don’t drink much water, and they urinate even less — a desert survival trick that makes them one of the least smelly animals around!

Life Span of a Pet Gerbil

Unfortunately, the average life expectancy of a pet gerbil is only 2 to 4 years.

However, if you’re lucky, some longevous gerbils have made it to eight years of age. Just take good care of them and plan frequent visits to the veterinarian!

We know it’s not much, but it isn’t bad considering that wild gerbils only live for four months on average.

Gerbil Behavior and Temperament

Would you believe that a gerbil’s cuteness is NOT their defining characteristic?

We struggled with it too, but it’s definitely true.

The best thing about a Mongolian gerbil is their personality! Words that come to mind are:

  • Friendly
  • Social
  • Clever
  • Curious
  • Quiet
  • Low-maintenance

Gerbils have developed this fun nature because of their active social lives in the wild — they absolutely love spending time with their family!

This only has two drawbacks:

Gerbils can’t live alone, and they get very aggressive and territorial if an ‘outsider’ is introduced to their established group, especially if they’re males.

These traits highlight the importance of recreating a gerbil’s natural living conditions even in captivity. If you want help choosing the perfect enclosure, check out our guide to the best gerbil cages and enclosures.

Reproduction Habits

Short life spans, scarce water, and an abundance of predatory animals have forced gerbil genetics to evolve and make breeding an incredibly rapid feat.

On average, a female gerbil only needs a gestation period of 25 days to birth five adorable pups; wow!

Diet of the Mongolian Gerbil

Gerbils follow straightforward diets in the wild.

Their favorite foods include grains, seeds, herbs, shrubs, and grass. Essentially anything they can easily find in the Mongolian steppe!

When kept as pets, their diets should be centered on dry gerbil food (pellets or seed mixes)and a tiny bit of fresh vegetables.

Mongolian Gerbils, Your Next Pet?

By this point, you’ve learned quite a bit about Mongolian gerbils…

Congrats on making it this far! 🎉

But what should your next steps be?

Here’s what we suggest:

A) If you already own gerbils, stop reading and go be with your wonderful animals — they’ll be seriously impressed by your research.

B) If you’re still thinking about getting gerbils, take a look at a couple more articles:

The Complete ‘A to Z’ Gerbil Pet Guide and The Comprehensive Guide To Gerbil Care

And fingers crossed, you’ll be joining us in the ‘Gerbil Owners’ Club’ very soon! 🐹🤗

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