Cheesman's Gerbil

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Cheesman's Gerbil

By Julian Barker

First appeared in the June 2001 isue of the NGS Journal

Cheesman's Gerbil (Gerbillus cheesmani) has started to appear in the UK as a pet. It is a typical Gerbillus species, very like the Pallid Gerbil (G. perpallidus) that has been available as a pet in the UK for at least ten years, in colour, behaviour and general appearance.

The most obvious difference is the length of the almost naked tail. Pallid gerbils have a tail a little longer than the head and body, Cheesman's gerbils have a tail significantly longer, maybe 30% longer than the head and body length. Cheesemans Gerbil is also a little smaller than a Pallid Gerbil, although not as small as a Lesser Egyptian Gerbil (G. gerbillus)

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In temperament Cheesman's gerbils are very placid, being both inquisitive and apparently totally unafraid of humans. They are easy to handle, and never seem to bite. They can be cared for much like Mongolian Gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus), and like their Pallid cousins they do enjoy insect food, but that is not essential.

Cheesman's Gerbils come from the whole of the Arabian Peninsular and the sandy areas of Southern Iraq, Southern Iran, Pakistan and extending into South Western Afghanistan. They live in shifting sand dunes and dried out mudflats. It has been described as very well camouflaged for sandy habitats. If the gerbil freezes, it effectively disappears from sight!

They are not very social. They tend to nest separately in the wild, but in captivity live happily in small groups. Their burrows tend to be clustered in groups of two or three, but each burrow is separate with few chambers. The nesting chamber, where the gerbil takes refuge from the heat of the day, and the cold of night can be up to 1.25 metres (four feet) deep.


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They are quite agile, and have been observed climbing to the top of 600mm (two foot) high shrubs to feed on the seed heads. Seeds and plant material constitute most of their diet. It is not known if they eat insects In the wild, but, based on their behaviour in captivity, they probably do.

Studies in their native habitat suggest that Cheesman's Gerbils breed in winter. They can survive in areas with quite cold winters and often occupy desert areas well above 1000 metres (3000 feet) in height.

In general they are nocturnal in habit, although they do forage in the late afternoon. In captivity they wake and eagerly explore any interruption like Mongolian Gerbils do.

Unlike many other gerbils Cheesmans are not an economic pest because they live in areas to hostile for agriculture. Despite their remote habitat, they are known to have many predators including Sand Cats (Felis margareta), Foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Owls (Athene noctua and Otus brucei) and Snakes (Eristochophis mcmahonii and Sphalerosophis arenarius).

THE MAMMALS OF ARABIA (Second Edition), Harrison DL, Bates PJJ, Harrison Zoological Museum Publication, 1991, 268-305
A SURVEY OF THE MAMMALS OF AFGHANISTAN, Hassinger, Jerry, D., Fieldiana, 1973
ARABIAN MAMMALS - A NATURAL HISTORY: Kingdom Jonathan, 1990, 52-57
THE MAMMALS OF PAKISTAN (REVISED EDITION), Roberts, T.J., Oxford University Press, 1997, 278-300

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The NGS also has a complete list of gerbil species including distribution.

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Home Up Shaw's Jird Great Gerbil Baluchistan Gerbil Libyan Jird Fat Sand Rat Indian Gerbil Sundevall's Jird Fat-Tailed Gerbil Cheesman's Gerbil Charming Dipodil Egyptian Gerbil Emin's Gerbil Wagner's Gerbil G. Egyptian Gerbil Burton's Gerbil Bushy-Tailed Jird Pallid Gerbil Persian Jird W. African Gerbils Tamarisk Gerbil Mystery Gerbil 1 Mystery Gerbil 2 Mongolian Gerbil Midday Gerbil Rock Gerbil

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Last updated 31 August 2005