Libyan Jird

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There seems to be little information available on keeping Libyan Jirds (Meriones libycus) as pets. Although they have been kept as pets in the UK they seem to have been almost totally supplanted by the Shaw's Jird (Meriones Shawi), a very similar but different species.

Almost all the advice given on the Shaw's Jird page is applicable to Libyan Jirds. In size and appearance the animals are almost identical. However, the Libyan's attractiveness as a pet has apparently been limited by it's timidity and reluctance to breed.

There is a degree of confusion in the UK as to whether the animals we have are Shaw's, Libyans, or some sort of hybrid. The photographs on this page are of a Libyan Jird I recently saw in Holland. Noticeably, whilst all the jirds in the UK have neutral nails on at least some, if not all the feet. The Libyans I saw in Holland had dark nails on all their feet. Something I have not seen before.



There is some info on this species at the Gerbil-Info site.


I have been sent the following article that was written by Dennis Quinter, who can be contacted at

Libyan Jird

Rodentia; MURIDAE Genus MERIONES (M. libycus) is not known well to the U.S. market. The body length is 5"-6" with a tail length of 6". The tail has a black small tuft at the end. They are Diurnal (active day and night) and normally very docile. The gestation period is 19-23 days with litter of size 3-6 young. The eyes are open and they are on there own at 3-4 weeks. They will breed all year round. The tips of the fur is black coloured and the base is sandy coloured on the back, lighter coloured sides, and a white under side.

In the wild, the north Sahara Dessert, they are mostly vegetarian and live in sandy desserts with patches of bushy vegetation. They are sociable animals and sometimes live in colonies. They some- times go into a state of hibernation for two months in the northern part of their range.

They eat rodent blocks, Zoopreem, Monkey Chow, raw peanuts, and Deluxe Hamster and Gerbil Mix , but pick through it and eat certain seeds. They will also eat spinach, Romaine lettuce, and most any greens including most weeds. They also eat almost any insects.

They prefer a nest box and newspaper is preferred nesting material, which they shred into various size pieces. When the female is ready to have her litter, she will make a nest and get a aggressive. It is probably best to remove the male for his sake, the female gets territorial, and gets stressed out in small cages keeping the male away. If they have two nest boxes in the cage they can be left together all the time. They are good mothers and move the young around the cage if it has warm and cool spots to keep the temperature best for them. As a threatening gesture they thump their back leg similar to the way a rabbit does. With more than one male in a small cage there may be a problem with fighting and tail biting.

They are very docile and not likely to bite when being handled. There is little noticeable odour from their cage like the ammonia smell with hamsters. They are clean animals. They like a sand bath and it is good for their fur. They alternate between napping and activity all day and night. They do like a wheel to run in and love to dig and love tunnels.

I have also been sent the following from


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION - Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Afganistan, Saudi Arabia, Western Desert of Egypt, Libya.

COMMON NAME - Libyan Jird.

SUBSPECIES IN EGYPT - Meriones libycus libycus

DISTRIBUTION IN EGYPT - Northern part of Western Desert.

DIAGNOSIS - Large jird soft pelage, dorsum dark yellowish brown, side with line of clear orangish, venter white. Ear not pigmented. Tail colour of back, not distinctly bicoloured, and with an orangish base. Tail brush black, conspicuous. sole partly haired, not pigmented. Claws black. Skull not prominently angular, but with well-developed supraorbital ridge. Posterior margin of nasals level with or behind posterior margin of frontopremaxillary suture. Infraorbital foramen not visible in lateral view. Mastoid bulla inflated beyond level of paroccipital process. suprameatal triangle usually closed posteriorly. auditory meatus swollen to leveal of zygomatic process of temporal bone. accessory tympanum present. Adult head and body length average 142 123-155) mm; tail 145 (115-157) mm., 102 (87.8-120.9) per cent of head and body length; hind foot 35 (32-38) mm.; ear 20 (18-22) mm.; occipitonasal length 38.6 (36.4-42.0) mm.; weight 84 (65.0-108.8) gm.

EXTERNAL CHARACTERISTICS - Dorsum dark yellowish brown; side with narrow but conspicuous line of clear orangish extending wrist to heel and sometimes onto side of foot; venter white, occasionally with cream-coloured areas on chest and belly. Hairs of dorsum, side, and greater part of belly with gray bases. Feet white, except for colour on side as noted and with blackish claws. Mystacial, preorbital, suborbital, and subauricular areas greyish. Postauricular patch small, whitish. Ear not pigmented, long buffy hairs on anterior margin, pinna sparsely covered with buffy white hairs, producing a whitish border. Upper surface of tail colour of back with scattered black hairs. Tail brush on upper surface of tip black, very conspicuous, about one-third tail length. Tail not distinctly bicolored; proximal portion of underside dark orangish.

VARIATION - No distinct variation was observed in Egyptian material.

HABITATS - This species is found commonly in sand mounds formed around Nitraria retusa in Wadi Muwellih. El Maghra, Quara, and Bahrein. One habitat in Wadi Muwellih included the grass Desmostachya bipinnata. Dead fronds under clusters of date palms harbour the species, and similar cover was provided by a pile of dead olive branches at Qara which hid burrows of this rodent. Specimens obtained from a rush-reed (Juncus sp. - Phragmites australis) association at El Maghra were probably only foraging there. One specimen was dug from a hole in hard barren ground under an acacia tree in the Maghra area. A colony at Bahrein burrowed in damp, salty sand beneath Tamarix sp. and Nitraria retusa. East of Salum, M. libycus was trapped beneath Lycium sp. and Nitraria retusa on sandy ridges above a salt marsh. Two individuals were trapped beside holes in hard ground near scattered vegetation (Hammada scoparia, Pityranthus tortuosus, Zilla spinosa, Artemisia inculta, Peganum harmala, Carthamus sp.) at Bir Sidi Omar and Bir Shafarzin near the Libyan border. Lewis et al. found M. libycus syrius in northern Saudi Arabia only in association with more or less permanent vegetation or with water. Ranck observed that, in Libya, M. caudatus (M. libycus) is never found associated with mesic habitats.

ACTIVITY - This species has been observed among shrubs after sunrise at El Maghra. Lewis et al. remarked that M. l. syrius was active during the day in northern Saudi Arabia. Ranck recorded an individual foraging in full daylight in Libya. In the vicinity of Benne-Abbes, Algeria, M. libycus was active during the day for periods long enough to allow visual studies.

CAPTIVE BEHAVIOUR - Merios libycus, unlike shawi and crassus, is very aggressive, difficult to handle, and bites readily.

BURROWS - Burrows with numerous openings are dug in mounds around vegetation or hidden beneath the detritus under wild date palms. One burrow under an isolated acacia tree contained a store of pods and seeds.

REPRODUCTION - Data from four females taken in April and May averaged three young, with a range of two to four.

REFERENCE: Osborn, D, J., and I. Helmy. 1980. The contemporary land mammals of Egypt (including Sinai). Fieldiana Zool., no. 5.


DISTRIBUTION IN ALGERIA - M. libycus populates the entire territory of the Algeria Sahara. It reaches further north than M. crassus and inhabits the southern part of the Hauts Plateaux, where it is sympatric with M. shawi. some of the earlier records of M. libycus may concern M. crassus. These two species are also difficult to separate when studying the fragmentary material from owl pellets.

SIZE - Total length: avg. 274 (235-299) Tail length: avg. 141.8 (114-165) Hind foot: avg. 32.1 (29-36) Ear: avg. 17.7 (15-20.5)

ECOLOGY - We collected these rodents in the desert and semidesert conditions in habitats whit relatively deep, solid soil and abundant vegetation. The burrows, provided with several entrances, were situated under shrubs. Animals were sometimes seen active by day-time. Our collections were mainly made in winter. Males with enlarged testes were captured on 9.1.1981 and 18.2.1982, others investigated in the same season were sexually inactive. Lactating females were collected on 8.4.1980 and on 26.6.1980; in Tamanrasset on 4.2.1983 a female with 5 embryos was captured. All earlier observations were made in the region of Beni Abbes. Petter usually found burrows below the shrubs of Zizyphus lotus, on the bottom of wadis, in oases and on days. They were extensive, with many entrances, but did not penetrate deep into the soil. The animals were mainly nocturnal, but they also leave the burrows by day. The density of population was about 1 individual/ha, they could home from the distance of up to 2.5 km. M. libycus collects reserves of dates in its burrows; in captive it can do with dry= food. Mermod also noted that M. libycus prefers habitats with perennial cover. The density of population was about 2 individuals/ha; homing from the distance of 1 km was observed. Daly found in 3 litters 1, 3 and 7 embryos (avg. 3.7) and described the development of the young. Daly and Daly were able to note that females occupy relatively small home ranges which do not overlap extensively and that they remain in one daya for many months. males occupy larger home ranges, they were recaptured in the distance of up to 2.5 km; overlapping of home ranges was extensive or even total. Adults occupy separate burrows. prominent testicular sacs were observed in February. Juveniles appeared in late March and April. M. libycus seems to be an opportunistic breeder: there was evidence of conception taking place in November. Social behaviour was also studied by the above mentioned authors.



SUBSPECIES IN ARABIA - M. l. erythrourus and M. l. arimalius

SIZE - Length: 228-335 mm Tail: 117-181 mm Hind foot: 33-41 mm Ear: 15-22 mm (syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Oman)

REMARKS - This species seems mainly diurnal in activity in Iraq. A large colony located in Jazira near Samarra was observed running about and feeding in the open and in the full sunlight at mid-day. When running fast the tail is often held erect at an angle of ninety degrees to the body, displaying the terminal black tuft, which perhaps serves as a signal to other members of the colony. The burrows were located in sandy hummocks, generally beneath clumps of perennial bushes, but sometimes outlying holes were located in smaller hummocks covered by coarse grasses and other annual herbs. At Amiriya crepuscular activity was observed in another colony. Vesy-Fitzgeral found colonies located in similar situations in Saudi Arabia, were sandy-silty hummocks with bushy vegetation and varied seasonal herbage, especially in wadi beds, provided the most favoured habitat. He observed nocturnal activity there and noted that they will excavate and feed on bulbs of Iris sp. Near Qaisumah Lewis, Lewis and Harrison report it to be one of the commonest rodents, but always found in association with more or less permanent vegetation or with water. Af Rafha there were large supplies of rose hips in association with the colonies. Both nocturnal and diurnal activity was observed in this region and the colonies were very active diggers, the burrow systems constructed with many entrances and often interlacting the root system of the bushes growing on the hummocks. In soft soil the burrows may extend to a depth of more than one and a half meters and radiate for three to four meters, with a tortuous system of cross-connecting burrows, rooms and entrances. Lewis, Lewis and Harrison note that this species is fond of consuming the bitter gourds of the Donkey Melon (Citrullus colocynthis), which are often found partly devoured in the burrows. The nest chamber, usually provided with an escape passage, is situated at the end of a short side passage, and the nest is composed of finely shredded vegetable fibres. At Hufuf jirds of this species were found inhabiting gardens watered by springs; their holes were in the base of mud walls surrounding lucerne fields, on the young leaves and shoots of which they were feeding, doing a lot of damage to the crop, a strip of which along the walls was bitten short in a manner resembling the depradations of rabbits in English cornfields. Cheesman remarked on their contests, so that few were unmutilated and some were stumps. At Jabrin, the pallid desert form M. l. arimalius was found feeding exclusively on Gadha bushes. The colonies were diurnal, except during the hottest hours about noon. Cheesman noted their intuitive shyness, the least movement causing a stampede for the security of the burrows, were the animals would remain, uttering a warning note resembling a ticking sound, like two sticks being knocked together, so long as suspicion of danger remained. No jird would emerge while this noise continued. This phenomenon does not seem to have been reported in the northern races. In Iran Lay reported this species living amicably with Rhombomys opimus and one adult M. libycus was actually found in the same nest chamber as an adult female Rhombomys with suckling young. Information on reproduction in the wild in this region is rather scanty; Lay noted a pregnant females with four embryos in Iran on October 26th; three parts grown juveniles were trapped in numbers in March in Saudi Arabia, while Harrison excavated an adult with tree half-grown young from a burrow in Iraq in mid-January. Atallah studied a population at El Jafr, Jordan, and concluded that the breeding season there may end from late May to mid-June, since none of the adults obtained were in breeding condition, but half the animals collected were in breeding condition, but half grown and subadult animals were obtained near Palmyra, Syria, by the author at the end of April. One very young animal, only 154 mm in total length was collected there while active in the desert at night. Another half grown animals was obtained by the author in Jazira, Iraq, at the end of January, and a very young M. l. arimalius was obtained at Jabrin on February 23rd These limited data suggest that reproduction is most active during the winter and spring, but further studies may well reveal that it occurs in fact to some extent throughout the year.


SIZE - Head and body: 133 mm (115-168) tail: 137 mm (125-162 mm) hind foot: 35 mm (17-22 mm) ear length: 18 mm (17-22 mm)

DISTRIBUTION AND STATUS - M. libycus, though inhabiting upland mountainous regions in Pakistan, is confined to the valleys and low-lying areas, and it avoids steep mountain slopes or rocky regions at higher elevations where it is replaced by M. persicus. It is found from sea level on the Mekran coast up to about 1680m (5500ft) and is typically associated with tamarisk studded sandy flood plains in Baluchistan and the edges of cultivation in the broader valleys. M. libycus has been collected from most parts of Baluchistan in the lowland areas. It has been collected throughout Kharan and Kalat, around Dalbandin and Nushki and around quetta and up to Chaman. It seems to be rare in the northern mountainous parts of Baluchistan. It has been collected in south Waziristan. It does not extend anywhere eastwards as far as the Indus River and has not been recorded north of Waziristan. Extra-limitally it is widely distributed from North Africa through Egypt, Arabia. Israel and Iran. Due to its diurnal and colonial habits it has been well known from Afghanistan around Kandahar as early as 1842. It has been collected from around Kabul, abi-i-Istada as well as Herat. In Iran it has been collected in every province except the forested slopes of the Elburz Mountains and the Caspian coastal plain. Northwards it extends throughout Russian Turkestan up to the Aral Sea and eastwards to Chinese Turkestan. Since this jird frequently lives in colonies bordering on cultivation and may reach a high population density in such regions it is occasionally harmful to various agricultural crops. I have observed in March that it sometimes does considerable damage cropping young green wheat and lucerne particularly around the edges of such field crops.

BIOLOGY - Some information has been recorded about the habits of the Arabian population of this species, and it appears to be more closely similar to M. hurriane than M. persicus. They have the same habit as the latter species of giving an alarm call by drumming rapidly on the ground with their hind feet, and characteristically do this whilst sitting just inside the safety of their burrow entrances. When out foraging they race across open pieces of ground with their tails raised vertically above their backs until they reach the shelter of the next shrub. Like M. hurriane they are gregarious and live in extensive colonies where their burrows are located in comparative close proximity. This species does not seal the entrance of its burrow and like M. hurriane frequently excavates in the firmer soil around the roots of a Tamarisk bush. Such burrow systems appear to be extensive and may have two or more entrances and they will literally honeycomb embankments where colonies occur. Observations on captive specimens indicate that it is a relatively placid rodent and not as aggressive as M. persicus. They are diurnal in feeding activity and are often quite hold in the presence of humans. They can readily be observed actively feeding above ground in the early morning and evening and in winter even in the middle of the day. at Anam Bostan I have been able to approach within five or six feet of many individuals whilst they were actively foraging. Little has been recorded about the feeding habits of this jird but I have seen them feeding on various unidentified grass seeds and fruits of succulent Chenopodianceae and the leaves of Lycium barbatrum. They will also dig up and eat bulbs of Allium, Scill and Tulipa species which grow in the regions of Baluchistan where it occurs. In cultivation they often do considerable damage to tomato and potato crops. They have also been reported as damaging lucerne crops in Arabia. M. libycus probably confines its breeding active to the spring, and autumn months when food is more readily available. average litter size appears to be three or four. A pregnant female with four embryos was trapped on 26 October in Iran. Because of the harsh climate and periods of food scarcity with which this rodent has to cope in Baluchistan it is believed that in winter it does undergo periods of torpor when it remains underground in a relatively inactive state. Excavation of their burrows reveals that they definitely carry grains and seeds to their underground chambers and such stores are probably saved for winter consumption. During the coldest part of winter they very seldom emerge above ground. There is no evidence that they undergo true hibernation. M. libycus appears to be the principal food prey of the Marbled Pole Cat (Vormela peregusna) and the latter is often found living inside the burrows of M. libycus. Being diurnal they are probably preyed upon by raptors such as the Booted Eagle (HieraŠtus pennatus) and the Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) both of which are not uncommon in Baluchistan. The latter species is a winter visitor but I have watched it hunting over tracts inhabited by this Jird. M. libycus has been trapped in Iran in the same burrow system with Rhombomys opimus. It is abundant around Nushki in Baluchistan and shares the same biotope with R. opimus and Gerbillus cheesmani in this region. It has been trapped around Quetta in the same biotope as Cricetulus migratorius though the latter certainly lives in separate burrows.

REFERENCE: Roberts, T. J. 1977. The mammals of Pakistan. Ernest Benn, London.

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Last updated 22 September 2007