Meriones crassusSundevall's jird

Geographic Range

Extends fromnorthwest Africa above 20 degrees north, through the Middle East and into Central Asia (Koffler, 1972). Parts of Egypt, Libya, northern Tunisia, northern Algeria, and northern Morocco are not inhabited by the species.


They live in sandy soil in hot and dry environments (Koffler, 1972). Burrow locations are not necessarily dependent on vegetation proximity. They have been found in rocky environments as well. They live in complex burrows, sometimes with multiple exits and several chambers (Harrison et al., 1991).

Physical Description

They are small in body size, but comparatively large compared to some other gerbils. The fur is soft and dense. It shows a pattern of counter-shading coloration, with a sandy color and black spots on the dorsal side and solid white on the ventral side (Harrison et al., 1991). The claws are ivory-white. The upper lip, inside of the limbs, and the bottoms of the feet, are white as well. The tail has a black tip (Harrison et al., 1991) and is about the length of the body (Koffler, 1972). Females have four pairs of mammae (Harrison et al., 1991).

  • Range mass
    29 to 110 g
    1.02 to 3.88 oz
  • Range length
    205 to 290 mm
    8.07 to 11.42 in
  • Average length
    251.2 mm
    9.89 in


Pairs mate during the night, for the period of about two hours with quick copulations and repetition (Koffler, 1972). The mating behavior includes tail beats by the male during mounting; and foot-stomping takes place during courtship. Between mounts, the female grooms the male (Koffler, 1972).

Individuals are able to breed at an early age, and do so throughout the year (Koffler, 1972). The estrus cycle lasts 4.5 days on average and is negatively affected by poor food intake (Khokhlova et al., 2000). Litter size varies from one to eight newborns, averaging 3.5 individuals (Hayssen, 1993). Gestation usually lasts about 21 (Hayssen, 1993) to 26 (Koffler, 1972) days, although it takes longer if the mother is nursing young. Newborns weigh 2.5g to 4.5g at birth.

  • Breeding season
    All year
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 8
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    21 to 31 days
  • Average weaning age
    1 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    53 (low) days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    53 (low) days

Newborns do not have hair. Hair growth begins after six to nine days, with a full coat complete after two weeks (Koffler, 1972). Weaning is complete after one month and sexual maturity can occur within two months after birth.

The female alone cares for the young until weaning (about one month) (Koffler, 1972).


There have been no recent studies on this subject with only one note of lifespan (Nowak, 1991).


Individuals ususally do not leave a burrow until evening hours, presumably to avoid the high heat of day (Gould et al., 1998) and diurnal predators. They have specific physiological adaptations for water conservation, including highly efficient kidneys and te production of unusually dry fecal matter.

These jirds live in small colonies of upwards to 10 individuals (Harrison et al., 1991). The colonies occupy complex burrow structures (Harrison et al., 1991), individual burrow design varies (Nowak, 1991).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The jird is able to exploit low quality roughage and has a low energy requirement (Choshniak et al., 1987). The long period in which food stays within the lower digestive tract may add to this ability (Yahav et al., 1990). The diet shifts from mainly seeds in the summer to more green vegetation in the winter, possibly to increase water consumption (Degen et al., 1997). Change in the amount of food consumption has been linked to change in circadian rhythm, which is related to seasonal light changes (Haim et al., 1990). Jirds have also been known to eat locusts and other insects (Harrison et al., 1991). Sexual dimorphism also leads to different food intake and food selection, as the larger males tend to be less selective (Khokhlova et al., 1995). Food is stored in the burrows, and jirds normally return from foraging before eating (Koffler, 1972).

Foods eaten include: seeds, grassy vegetation, twigs and insects.

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Nocturnal activity allows individuals to avoid many day predators, and quick movements back to the burrow are used to escape (Gould et al., 1998). Coloration of the fur may also be an adaptive trait to avoid being seen by predators.

Ecosystem Roles

Jirds probably help disperse seeds when eating and foraging, since they moves food back to the burrow (Roberts, 1997). A number of other animal species have been found inside jird burrows, including tenebrionid beetles, scorpions, riddled hillcocks, and other kinds of gerbils (Koffler, 1972). They have a similar role as Gervillus cheesmani, Jaculus blanfordi, Allactage elater, and Meriones libycus in other areas (Roberts, 1997).

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
  • creates habitat

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

They are used as pets and in medical research.

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

They are sometimes seen as pests because they cause damage to agriculture, irrigation structures, and may even spread disease (Nowak, 1991). The pet trade may also lead to feral populations.

Conservation Status


Sean Maher (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ondrej Podlaha (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Choshniak, I., S. Yahav. 1987. Can desert rodents better utilize low quality roughage than their non-desert kindred?. Journal of Arid Environment, 12: 241-246.

Degen, A., I. Khokhlova, M. Kam, K. Nagy. 1997. Body size, granivory and seasonal dietary shifts in desert gerbilline rodents. Functional Ecology, 11: 53-59.

Gould, E., G. McKay. 1998. Encyclopedia of Mammals. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Haim, A., G. Levi. 1990. Role of Body Temperature is Seasonal Acclimation: Photoperiod-Induced Rhythms and Heat Production in Meriones crassus. Journal of Experimental Zoology, 256: 237-241.

Harrison, D., P. Bates. 1991. The Mammals of Arabia. Kent, Engalnd: Harrison Zoological Museum.

Hayssen, V., A. Van Tienhoven, A. Van Tienhoven. 1993. Asdell's Patterns of Mammalian Reproduction; A Compendium of Species-Species Data. Ithaca, NY: Comstock Publishing.

Khokhlova, I., A. Degen, M. Kam. 1995. Body size, gender, seed husking and energy requirements in two species of desert gerbilline rodents, Meriones crassus and Gerbillus henleyi. Functional Ecology, 9: 720-724.

Khokhlova, I., M. Kam, S. Gonen, A. Degen. 2000. Level of Energy Intake Affects the Estrous Cycle in Sundevall's Jird (Meriones crassus). Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 73 (3): 257-263.

Koffler, B. 1972. Meriones crassus. Mammalian Species, 9: 1-4.

Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Roberts, T. 1997. The Mammals of Pakistan. New York: Oxford University Press.

Yahav, S., I. Choshniak. 1990. Response of the digestive tract to low quality dry food in the fat jird (Meriones crassus) and the levant vole (Microtus guentheri). Journal of Arid Environment, 19: 209-215.