Actually, their German name is wrong: the gerbils neither come from the desert nor are they “real” mice. Her Latin name means “warrior with claws”.


What do gerbils look like?

Gerbils – they are also called Mongolian gerbils – are rodents and belong to the burrowing and mouse-like family. They are more closely related to hamsters or voles than to our normal house mice, which belong to the real mouse family.

But they still look like a mouse: they are about ten to twelve centimeters long and they carry a tassel or a brush on their four to twelve-centimeter long tail. They have many whiskers on their heads and paws, which tell them every touch and movement. Females weigh 70 to 100 grams, males up to 120 grams. Thanks to their powerful hind legs, they can run very quickly. They use their front paws for digging, eating, cleaning, and playing.

Their fur is usually brown. Today there are also breeds in different colors: There are sandy, white, black, light gray, or even piebald gerbils. The big button eyes with the long eyelashes are particularly striking. The ears, on the other hand, are quite small.

Where do gerbils live?

The wild Mongolian gerbils live in the Mongolian steppe and not in the desert. They occur from southern Mongolia to northeast China.

Gerbils live in the steppe among the grasses. They create caves in small hills, which are connected by many corridors. Large families of gerbils live together harmoniously here. The climate is dry and hot in summer and dry and very cold in winter. Therefore, gerbils are well adapted to cold but do not tolerate moisture.

What types of gerbils are there?

The closest relatives of the gerbil are the midday gerbil, Persian gerbil, Shaw’s gerbil, and Tristam’s gerbil. Also closely related are the North African gerbil, the field gerbil, and the bare-footed gerbil.

How old do gerbils get?

Gerbils live for three to four years. That’s a lot for such a small animal.


How do gerbils live?

Their name reveals a lot about their characteristics: gerbils are so-called because they are super fast speedsters. They have to be like that in their homeland, too, in order to be able to quickly disappear from enemies such as predators or birds of prey.

In the steppe, they often stand upright on small hills and carefully observe their surroundings. If they sense danger, they tap the ground with their hind feet, squeak and then disappear into their burrow in a flash.

Gerbils can see well and hear and smell even better. They recognize their family members by smell. If you don’t pass the scent test, you’re not part of the family and will be relentlessly chased away. That’s why they got their name “warriors with claws”.

Gerbils are pack animals. Even when kept as pets, gerbils are simply not happy without a family. They prefer to do everything together: explore the territory and the cage, play, groom themselves and snuggle up together to sleep.

And because gerbils are very curious, they quickly become tame towards humans. If they are allowed to roam freely in the room, they explore everything that gets in their way. However, this also means that they break a lot because gerbils just gnaw on everything they find.

Most gerbils alternate between being awake for two to four hours and then sleeping for the same amount of time. When awake, they rummage in the cage litter. Her favorite pastime of all is gnawing. They feel really good when they can clean themselves extensively and bathe in the sand. This is how they remove dirt and grease from their fur.

Friends and foes of the gerbils

Gerbils’ natural enemies include steppe foxes, foxes, polecats, and owls.

How do gerbils reproduce?

Gerbils have a lot of children: In theory, they can have one to five (or even more!) young every four to six weeks – so when you get gerbils you have to think carefully beforehand whether it is better to keep several males or several females. Because who else is supposed to take away all the many young mice from you?

Gerbils become matable at about seven to 12 weeks and stay with the same mate for life. When the female gerbil is ready to mate, the male gets very excited: he drums his hind paws on the ground and chases his partner around the territory. When the female is ready to mate, she stops. This ritual is repeated many times.

The young are born after 23 to 26 days. They are still naked, blind and deaf, are nursed for about 21 to 30 days, and are alternately warmed by the mother and father until they are big enough. After six to eight weeks they are independent.

How do gerbils communicate?

A loud squeaking is the fear and warning call of the gerbils. The young also let out a low chirp or whisper.


What do gerbils eat?

Gerbils are primarily vegetarian. In nature, they mainly eat seeds and grains. If you are keeping gerbils, it is best to feed them a ready-made gerbil mix available at the pet store. Millet and other seeds are also suitable. From time to time you can also give them a slice of wholemeal crispbread. Since gerbils occasionally eat insects in the wild, you should occasionally give them mealworms, for example, so that they get enough protein. However, the proportion should not make up more than 15 percent of the total feed.

Gerbils like fruit and vegetables, but they are only allowed to eat them in small portions: carrots, cucumber, endive, and fruit or the occasionally boiled potato they tolerate well. They also like to gnaw on twigs, but they may only be from fruit trees or pastures. Gerbils need six to ten grams of food and three to five milliliters of water per day.

Keeping of gerbils

Gerbils make great pets. It is best to keep several females or several males; Siblings get along best with each other. In any case, they need enough space to let off steam.

The cage must be at least 80 by 40 centimeters for two animals, and of course larger for more animals. The cage is strewn with hay and sand. However, the sand should not be bird sand, as it contains small pieces of shells that the mice can injure themselves on.

The gerbils build a cozy nest out of paper handkerchiefs or kitchen roll paper. Of course, a feeding bowl and a drinking bottle, as well as a running wheel and a small ladder for gymnastics and romping, also belong in a cage. Stones and root pieces are used for climbing and hiding. And the gerbils enjoy their sand bath in a bowl of sand.

Care plan

Every day you have to provide the gerbils with food and remove the leftover fresh food from the previous day. You may also be able to put fresh branches in the cage to gnaw on. In addition, the drinking water should be changed daily and superficially soiled bedding should be removed. And of course, you have to check every day whether all the animals are healthy and happy. In order to keep part of their corridors and chambers with scent marks, you should never change the entire bedding. It is best to only replace a third every few weeks, then the animals will not be so confused.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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