The Gerbil

Scienfic Name:- Meriones unguiculatus

Gerbils are small mammals belonging to the rodent order.   Once known as ''Desert Rats'',   there are around 110 species,   although the most common species kept as a pet is the Mongolian Gerbil.   When fully grown they usually weigh between 65-l00g (males) and 55-85g (females).

Most gerbils are diurnal and are active during the day,   although many are at their most active around dawn and dusk which is called crepuscular activity.   They are social animals and should therefore be kept in single sex pairs or groups,   although new animals should not be introduced to an existing group over 8 weeks of age,   as they would then be mature and likely fight with and kill the newcomers.

Habitat :- Conventional hamster and mice enclosures are not suitable for gerbils,   as they need to be able to dig their own tunnels and burrows.   Aquariums or other similar large tanks are ideal,   a rough size guide being around 45 Litres (10 gallons) per gerbil.   This should be filled with soft bedding material such as shredded paper towels or napkins,   timothy hay,   etc,   to a depth of at least 20cm.

Avoid using bedding with artificial fibres as these can wrap around legs and feet causing injuries.   Other materials to avoid include sand and cat litter,   as these are abrasive and can also cause harm.   The enclosure should be cleaned at least once a week,   although some old unsoiled bedding should always be mixed with any fresh material so as to keep a familiar smell. Enrichments such as cardboard rolls, wooden toys and branches should be provided as gerbils enjoy having things to chew. This also helps to wear down their teeth which, as with all rodents, grow contin­ uously throughout their entire lives. An exercise wheel should also be available, but not the wire varie­ ties, as the gerbils are likely to catch their legs in the gaps and hurt themselves.

Diet :- Their diet should consist of a complete commercial gerbil food, along with small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables such as apple and carrot. Seed mixes can also be offered as treats, but should not be giv­ en too often as they tend to be quite high in fat (particularly sunflower seeds which gerbils particularly like).

Life expectancy :- 2-4 years (with females generally living longer than males).

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