There are a lot of different species of gerbil, although the Mongolian gerbil is the one most commonly kept as pets. They are native to a family of rodents naturally found in the desert areas of Africa, India and Asia. This makes them very adept at dealing with hot temperatures, although they deal with the British climate just fine in the safety of an indoor cage.
They are not the best at climbing, but can move very quickly when needed and love to burrow in sandy or loose earth environments. Having a few gerbils in a large cage with a deep layer of bedding can be fascinating to watch as they burrow and make tunnels.
Gerbils are popular pets in the UK and you will find the perfect one for you in our gerbil adoption section we’re sure. It helps to know as much as you can about any pet you are about to adopt before taking it home, so in this article there are 10 interesting facts about gerbils that you may not of known.
In the wild a colony of gerbils can build an extensive network of burrows. They create an organised system with tunnels leading to areas containing food stores, nesting areas, and escape routes. These burrows can go as deep as 1.7 metres and sprawl across 6-8 metres.
While it is not essential you try to replicate a burrowing set-up in their cage, anything you can do to help them fulfil this natural instinct will increase their happiness. Usually putting a deep layer of bedding in their cage is enough, this will give them the opportunity to have a dig and burrow.
Gerbils will hoard much more food than they need. In their underground food stores they keep adding more food, often over filling the space they have made and resulting in food sprawling out.
They don’t have cheek pouches like hamsters but can carry food back and forth very quickly to stock up, often working together in numbers to speed the process up.
In comparison to their front legs, gerbils have long back legs. There are a few reasons for this; they use their rear legs to dig quickly, they thump their rear feet on the ground to raise an alarm if they sense danger, and males thump their feet after mating.
Young gerbils will often thump their rear feet for what seems like no reason. It is believed they are practicing the motion in preparation of needing it to raise an alarm. This can be a little annoying at home, but practice makes perfect!
Because their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives gerbils need to gnaw daily. The best solution you can offer them is to put some gnawing toys in their cage. They love chewing through cardboard tubes, but pieces of wood provide better long term gnawing material.
In the wild a gerbil will gnaw away at a branch of a pine tree, stripping off all the pines before moving on to the branch itself. Evidence that a group of gerbils are nearby can often be directed by gnaw marks on the wood in the area.
Gerbils are smart little animals, they learn a lot of survival and behaviour from their parents. They will learn what they can or cannot eat from watching their parents.
They are not as adaptable as rats when it comes to learning tricks from humans, but they can pick up some basic tricks and mannerisms. Using treats as rewards is a great way to get them to respond to what you are asking.
Gerbils don’t just use their hearing to communicate, they have a highly tunes sense of smell. They mark their territory using their scent gland and can tell if another gerbil has marked an area.
Female gerbils mark their pups with their scent, this helps them recognise their own offspring and warn other gerbils away.
This point cannot be stressed enough, if you want your gerbils to be happy you need to give them company. This means having a mate in their cage to socialise with, and having some fun with you too.
In the wild gerbils build up their colony numbers by sticking together for many generations of offspring. Groups can often build up to around 17, with many of the gerbils playing and helping each other on a daily basis.
The offspring will spend a lot of time with their parents, learning key life skills to enable them to survive and life healthily in the wild.
The males are involved in the upbringing of pups. They help by gathering nesting materials to protect them, they clean the pups, and as they grow older they show them how to gather food and materials for themselves.
It is a proven fact that pups with fathers present will open their eyes earlier. Gerbils benefit from having a stable family unit, this can be observed in captivity.
Because gerbils have adapted to warm and dry climates, they drink very little and urinate very little as a result. This means their cages stay cleaner, and smell fresher for longer than a lot of other rodents. While this may not be a selling point on its own, it is a little bonus when it comes to cleaning out their cage.
The colour most commonly seen is agouti. But there are many more variations including spotted, black, golden, lilac, and many more. The different colour gerbils have different behaviour traits too. Black gerbils use their scent glands much more often that the agouti gerbil for example. And, females are thought to prefer males of the same colour s themselves.