Meriones libycusLibyan jird

Geographic Range

Meriones libycus is spread widely across the Middle East and Northern Africa. In Africa they are found mainly in Libya and Egypt, while in Asia they spread as far west as Afghanistan and also into the northern parts of Iran. (van Veen 1999, Nowak 1999, Barker 1999)


Meriones libycus lives in the low lying areas of the desert Middle east. The are mainly restricted to the valleys and lowlands and rarely venture into areas of higher elevation. They often make their homes in areas where there is a large amount vegetation present, as plants are a vital source of food. (van Veen 1999, Barker 1999)

Physical Description

Meriones libycus, also known as the Libyan Jird, is very similar in size and shape to many other types of jirds. They are 5 to 6 inches long and have a tale that is roughly the same length as the rest of their body. Coloration is variable, but most commonly M. libycus is sandy-colored or yellowish dorsally, with a white or light colored ventral surface. The feet are almost exlusively white with black nails; however, there can also be a orange colored stripe that runs up the foot in some specimens. The ears are not pigmented,and the tail is usually the same color as the rest of the dorsal surface. The only physical feature that makes the body of the Libyan Jird look any different from any other gerbil species is that in M. libycus the head may be narrower by a small degree. (Jird Site 1997, van Veen 1999, Nowak 1999, Barker 1999)

  • Average mass
    85 g
    3.00 oz
  • Average mass
    100 g
    3.52 oz


The exact processes involved in the reproduction of M. libycus in the wild are not well documented. It is assumed that they have reproductive patterns similar to other jirds and gerbils. It is known that they have litters of anywhere from three to six, but this can be highly variable. Most evidence shows that the breeding takes place most heavily in winter, but it is also possible that breeeding takes place year-round on a lower level. The gestation period is usually around 20 days, with the newborn young being fully independent after 4-5 weeks. (van Veen 1999, Barker 1999)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    26 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    91 days


  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    5.2 years


Meriones libycus are highly social animals that live in large groups of individuals. They have many different forms of group behavior, one of these being their ability to give a warning call to others. This call consists of a rapid stomping of the foot, much in the way that a rabbit does. They spend most of their time in the burrows that they construct. When a jird does venture out, for example when foraging, they do so quickly. When running between burrows, the stick their tails up in the air and rapidly move from one area of cover to the next. They are diurnal in their feeding activity, and they will nap and forage at regular intervals during day and night. M. libycus are very tolerant of humans, and can often live undisturbed in very close proximity to humans. Some individuals in colder northern areas may go into a form of hibernation for the coldest months of the year, but for the most part the species is active year-round. (Barker 1999)

Meriones libycus burrows to build a den. They make shallow tunnels with multiple entrances. These entrances are usually situated near a plant or bush, as the foliage provides some cover.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Meriones libycus eat the seeds of a wide array of grasses in the wild. They also eat some types of leaves, as well as the succulent fruits that can be found in the desert areas in which they live. Which grasses they choose to use as a food source is variable and depends mainly on where the jird is located. In areas that are under human cultivation, they will feed on potato and tomato crops. (van Veen 1999, Barker 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Meriones libycus is sometimes kept as a pet. (van Veen 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

In agricultural areas near their home ranges, Meriones libycus can do serious damage to crops. They eat seeds, fruit, and leaves, so any crop that is being produced is a likely food source. They especially are known for damaging tomato and potato crops. (Barker 1999)

Conservation Status

Meriones libycus is not endangered as it is fairly common across a wide area. Sometimes their numbers can be a problem, as in particular high times of breeding the masses of jirds can do damage to crops. (Barker 1999)

Other Comments

Those that are interested in keeping M. libycus as a pet should know that while individuals in this species are very passive, groups of jirds can be very aggresive. There is a high degree of competition amongst individuals which can lead to fighting, biting, and other potential dangers for the animals. (van Veen 1999)


Andrew Masi (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


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

World Map

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

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.


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.


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


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


Claire, August 28, 1997. "Jird Site" (On-line). Accessed Dec 6, 1999 at

Julian Barker, August 2, 1999. "The NGS (National Gerbil Society) Webpage" (On-line). Accessed December 6, 1999 at

Karin van Veen, Updated Dec 10, 9999. "Gerbil Information Page" (On-line). Accessed Dec 12, 1999 at

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, 6th Ed.. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.