There are more interesting facts about gerbils than most people realize. Both wild and domesticated gerbils are intelligent and complex rodents, and there’s a lot to learn about them.
There are over 100 different species of gerbil. The species we keep as a pet is from Mongolia, but wild gerbils live all across Africa and Asia. Gerbils live in groups in the wild, and are happiest when kept in pairs. Gerbils are highly intelligent. They can learn how to use a litter box, and memorize a maze.
The more you know about gerbils, the better the gerbil owner you’ll be in the future. We’ll share some random facts about wild gerbils and gerbils as pets.
Cool Facts about Gerbils as Pets
The gerbils that humans keep as pets are called Mongolian gerbils. They are descended from wild gerbils, but they are now fully domesticated.
Gerbils are common pets in most U.S. states, and many other countries. They’re popular because of their small size, ease of care, and their friendly and inquisitive nature. Gerbils are also one of the most hygienic pets you can keep.
1) There Are 40 Different Gerbil Coat Colors
A gerbil’s natural coat color is called golden agouti. It’s a yellow-toned sandy color with flecks of darker brown.
Pet gerbils have about forty different coat colors, as well as their wild coloration. Gerbil breeders have achieved this by selectively breeding for certain gene mutations.
There are some genes which dilute color, or make it lighter. Some genes add pigment, making the coat darker. Examples of gerbil coat colors include:
- Lilac (dark gray)
- Dove (light grey)
- Argente golden
- Red fox
- Pink-eyed white
Some gerbils are one solid color, whereas others are spotted, patched, or pied. Burmese and Siamese gerbils are light in color with dark brown ears, nose, feet, and tail.
2) You Can Toilet Train Gerbils
One of the weirdest facts about gerbils is that they can be toilet-trained. If you thought cats were the only animals that could use a litter box, you were wrong.
Gerbils don’t urinate all that often. This is because they are desert animals, and they’re used to not drinking much water. Their bodies are designed to conserve as much fluid as possible.
They’re also picky about where they go to the bathroom. Most gerbils will urinate and defecate in the same place in their cage every time.
This makes it easy to litter box train your gerbil. Place a ceramic dish, filled with sand, in the place where your gerbil likes to go to the toilet. It will soon recognize the dish as a litter box, and start using it. This will make cleaning your gerbil’s cage much easier.
3) Gerbil Teeth Never Stop Growing
The majority of a gerbil’s diet is plant-based. Gerbils evolved to eat tough foods, such as plant roots, bark, and seeds.
To keep their teeth in good condition, gerbils’ teeth continually grow throughout their lives. That way, if a tooth gets chipped or damaged, the problem will grow out. This trait is shared by many other rodents, such as rats and guinea pigs.
A pet gerbil’s diet is usually easier on the teeth than a wild gerbil’s diet. For that reason, pet gerbils have to chew on things like wood and cardboard to keep their teeth in good shape.
A gerbil’s teeth can grow too long if they don’t have enough to gnaw on. Overgrown teeth can cause problems with eating and grooming.
4) Gerbils Can Memorize Mazes
Most people don’t realize just how intelligent gerbils are. While they aren’t as bright as mice or rats, they are certainly capable of learning.
Gerbils are highly inquisitive, and motivated by food and freedom. By offering the right reward, you can teach your gerbil tricks.
One of the most impressive gerbil tricks is their ability to memorize a maze. You can build a maze using cardboard walls. Place a treat at one end and your gerbil at the other, and watch it find its way.
The more often your gerbil uses the maze, the more quickly it will solve it. Eventually, your gerbil will run the maze with ease, taking the correct turn every time.
5) Gerbils Are Happiest Living in Pairs
Gerbils are highly social creatures that evolved to live in groups called clans. This means that you should never own just one gerbil.
Gerbils need the company of their own kind. If they live alone, they can become prone to health conditions such as:
- Skin and coat problems (due to overgrooming)
- Anorexia and weight loss (due to lack of appetite)
- Stress, which can cause several issues. Physiological Psychology found that gerbils raised in isolation are prone to stress-induced seizures.
The best thing to do is to keep a pair of same-sex gerbils together. Stick to two gerbils, as the larger the gerbil group, the more likely that declanning will occur. Declanning is when a group of gerbils splits up and can no longer live together.
For best results, choose two gerbils from the same litter, as they’re less likely to fight.
6) Gerbils Can Jump a Foot in the Air
Gerbils are some of the most agile animals. From a flat surface, a gerbil can jump up to 30 centimeters into the air (around one foot).
You can have a lot of fun experimenting with your gerbil’s ability to jump. Gerbils can be taught to leap onto their owner’s shoulder, to jump over obstacles or through hoops.
However, a gerbil’s agility does have a downside. You must be careful where you keep your gerbil, because they’re great at escaping.
Keep a lid on your gerbil’s cage or tank at all times. If you want to use a playpen or exercise run, affix some wire mesh securely over the top. That way, your gerbil won’t be able to jump out.
7) Gerbils Are Active During the Day and Night
Most rodents are nocturnal. This means that they sleep during the day, and are active at night.
Gerbils, on the other hand, are neither nocturnal nor diurnal (active in the day). Instead, they are metaturnal. This means that they are equally active during the day and night.
Every day, gerbils spend an average of 12 hours asleep. But this sleep isn’t undertaken all at once. Instead, it’s split into several short bursts.
Your gerbil might sleep for one to four hours, then spend a few hours digging, eating, or playing. Then it’ll take another nap. This will continue throughout the day and night.
This is a survival mechanism, leftover from when gerbils were wild animals. It meant that one or more gerbils in the clan were always awake and able to watch for predators.
8) Gerbils Are Illegal in California and Hawaii
Gerbils are popular pets nationwide. However, there are two states in which gerbils are banned altogether. If you live in California or Hawaii, you’re out of luck. According to the California government, many exotic pets are banned in California, including gerbils.
California’s climate and geography are too similar to the Asian countries where gerbils originate. This means that if any gerbils escape into the wild, they could thrive, and become an invasive species.
Introduced species can be devastating to an ecosystem. They could decimate native plants, or threaten native animals by competing for food or territory.
Gerbils are also banned in Hawaii for the same reason. If you live in either of these states, you won’t find gerbils at your local pet store.
9) Gerbils Were First Domesticated in the 1960s
Gerbils are relatively new to the pet trade. The first recorded mention of gerbils in the West was in 1866. But it wasn’t until much later that gerbils were first kept as pets.
Gerbils were originally brought to western countries to be used as laboratory animals. But they eventually fell out of favor, and people started breeding them as companion animals.
In 1954, the first 20 breeding pairs of gerbils were brought to the United States. Almost all pet gerbils today are descended from them. Even though it’s been decades since then, they haven’t changed much from their wild ancestors.
Fun Facts about Wild Gerbils
Gerbils aren’t just pets: they can also be found in the wild. Wild gerbils live in the desert and semi-arid climates, so they’re also called desert rats.
There are many different gerbil species, including the one from which our pet gerbils originate (Mongolian gerbils).
10) Gerbils Live in Africa and Asia
Pet gerbils originate from gerbils living in the wilds of Mongolia. But different gerbil species live all over the continents of Asia and Africa.
Gerbils are desert creatures, and prefer arid or semi-arid environments. Dozens of countries are home to wild gerbils, including (but not limited to):
Different gerbil species live in different places. For example, the Egyptian gerbil is found only in the Saharan desert in Africa. But some species are only found in Asia.
Many wild rodents that are native to the Americas. However, gerbils are not naturally found here.
11) There Are Over 100 Species of Gerbil
When we think of gerbils, we tend to picture Mongolian gerbils. They are the most well-known species, and the most popular gerbil to be kept as a pet.
However, there are over 100 types of gerbil. Scientists currently know of around 110 different species, and more are discovered from time to time.
Most species of gerbil look and behave similarly, as they are closely related. But they all have their own distinct characteristics.
For example, fat-tailed gerbils, native to the northern Sahara, have thick tails that they use for storing water. They are smaller and fluffier than Mongolian gerbils, with shorter legs.
12) The World’s Biggest Gerbil is Sixteen Inches Long
The type of gerbils that we keep as pets, Mongolian gerbils, are quite small. Their bodies are around five to six inches long, and they have a four-inch tail. They’re bigger than mice and hamsters, but smaller than rats.
However, some wild gerbil species are much bigger. The biggest species of gerbil in the world is the Great Gerbil, which lives in central Asia. It can reach more than 16 inches in length (including its tail). Its body is around 8 inches long, about the same size as a small guinea pig.
According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Great Gerbils may have been responsible for the Black Death in medieval Europe.
13) Wild Gerbils Live in Underground Burrows
In the wild, gerbils live underground in burrows. They create massive, complex subterranean structures, composed of dozens of tunnels.
This is because wild gerbils are prey animals, and burrows help them stay away from predators. Predators like birds of prey can’t reach them when they’re safely underground. Their burrows are where gerbils raise their young, and store their food.
Many gerbils, including a mixture of males and females, will share a burrow. Up to 20 gerbils can live together in one clan.
If you provide them with the right bedding, pet gerbils will also build tunnels in their gerbilariums.
14) Wild Gerbils Are Omnivores
Store-bought gerbil food mix is usually made of various vegetables, grains, and seeds. But wild gerbils aren’t herbivores. They’re omnivores, meaning they can digest both plant and animal matter.
Wild gerbils eat insects. They’re a good source of fat and protein, and are usually available even in barren areas. They also eat a wide variety of plant foods, including:
- Leaves, stems and shoots
Gerbils need a wide range of nutrients to help them stay healthy. They’re always searching for new foods to try. Gerbils are hoarding rodents, meaning they’ll gather large amounts of food to keep for the winter.
15) Gerbils Recognize Each Other By Scent
One of the most interesting facts about male gerbils is that they have large scent glands on their undersides. They rub this gland on the ground to mark their territory.
Female gerbils have scent glands too, but they’re not as large as males’. Males use their scent glands twice as much as females do.
This is because male gerbils are usually dominant. It’s their job to mark the boundaries of their land, so that other gerbils know when they’re trespassing.
Each gerbil has a distinct scent. This allows any gerbil to know which gerbil has marked a particular area. If they come across an unfamiliar scent, they’ll know it belongs to a gerbil from a different clan.
Pet gerbils use their scent glands to mark the cage, too. Male gerbils are prone to scent-gland tumors, which can appear as a result of irritation from overuse.
16) Gerbils Communicate Using Ultrasonic Sound
Gerbils talk to each other almost constantly. They use complex vocalizations to communicate with each other. Wild gerbils talk to each other so that they can:
- Warn other gerbils about approaching predators
- Signify their desire to mate
- Tell other gerbils when they’re hurt
- Decide who’s the most dominant gerbil and establish the social ranking
- Dispute boundary issues with other gerbil clans
We can hear some gerbil noises, in the form of squeaks. But what you might not know is that humans can’t hear most of the sounds that gerbils make.
The frequency of a gerbil’s vocalization is high above the range of human hearing. Humans can hear sounds up to 20 KHz. Gerbils communicate mostly using ultrasonic sound (or ultrasound), up to 50 KHz.
17) Gerbils Can Mate From Three Months of Age
Because gerbils live relatively short lives, they can have babies from an early age. This allows them to raise the new generation of gerbils before succumbing to old age, or predation.
According to Reproduction, Fertility and Development, most male gerbils can mate by the time they are three months old. Female gerbils can bear young starting around the same time, though it’s possible to get pregnant even earlier.
Baby gerbils are called pups. The average gerbil litter will contain six pups, though there can be up to nine. Wild gerbils usually have consecutive litters: they can get pregnant again the same day that they give birth. They will carry on having babies every month for the rest of their life.
The same is true for pet gerbils. That’s why you shouldn’t keep two opposite-sex gerbils together, unless you’re prepared for lots more.