A gerbil is a small mammal of the order Rodentia.
Once known simply as "desert rats," the gerbil family includes 89 species of African, Indian, and Asian rodents, including sand rats and jirds, all of which are adapted to arid habitats. Therefore, most are primarily nocturnal, and almost all are omnivorous.
One Mongolian species, Meriones unguiculatus, also known as the Clawed Jird, is a gentle and hardy animal that has become a popular pet. It was first brought to the United States in 1954 by Dr. Victor Schwentker for use in research.
Gerbils are typically between six and twelve inches long, and their tail makes up approximately one half of their total length. One species, however, the Great Gerbil, or Rhombomys opimus, originally native to Turkmenistan, can grow to more than 16 inches in length. As of August 19, 2003, officials in western China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region began releasing eagles to combat the damage they say the great gerbils have done to eleven million acres of grassland.
Family Cricetidae, the hamster-like rodents, belongs to the superfamily Muridae, which also includes mice and rats. Subfamily Gerbilinae consists of the following 14 genera, 9 subgenera and 89 species:
Genus Gerbillus (Typical gerbils; Northern pygmy gerbils)
- subgenus Handecapleura
- subgenus Dipodillus
- subgenus Gerbillus
Genus Meriones (Jirds)
- subgenus Parameriones
- subgenus Cheliones
- subgenus Meriones
- subgenus Pallasiomys
Genus Psammomys (Sand rats)
Genus Rhombomys (Larger gerbil)
Genus Pachyuromys (Fat-tailed gerbil)
Genus Tatera (Large naked-soled gerbils)
- subgenus Gerbilliscus
- subgenus Tatera
Genus Desmodillus (Short-eared gerbil)
Genus Microdillus (listed as a subgenus of Gerbillus until 1977
Genus Taterillus (Small naked-soled gerbils)
Genus Ammodillus (Walo)
Genus Brachiones (Przewalski's gerbil)
- przewalski (discovered by Nikolay Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky)
Genus Gerbillurus (Southern pygmy gerbils)
Genus Sekeetamys (Bushy-tailed jird; listed as a subgenus of Meriones until 1956