Sundevalls jird

Meriones crassus

SUBFAMILY

Gerbillinae

TAXONOMY

Meriones crassus Sundevall, 1842, Sinai, Egypt.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Gentle jird, gerbil, sand rat.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Slightly larger than mouse-sized: head and body length 5.9 in (150 mm); tail 5.9 (150 mm); weight 1.6-2.1 oz (45-60 g). Tail is sparsely furred, with a brush-like tip. The fur is soft and fine, their undersides are entirely white, and their dorsal surfaces are gray to buffy.

DISTRIBUTION

Occur throughout the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and Iraq, and into Turkey and Syria. Also found throughout much of Africa north of 20°N latitude, from Morocco to Sudan.

HABITAT

Prefer the most arid, hot, and open habitats throughout their range. Typically found in areas with sandy soils, but can also be found in rocky areas. They are well adapted to their arid

habitats; they have efficient kidneys that produce highly concentrated urine. They also defecate fecal material that is very dry. Maintain a high relative humidity in burrows, close to 100% in their deepest parts.

BEHAVIOR

Escape both the heat and aridity of the daylight hours and the diurnal predators by being mainly nocturnal, though their remains have been found in owl pellets. They are social animals, living in small colonies that occupy complex burrow systems.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Diet consists mainly of seeds, though fruits, and foliage; insects are also taken. Recorded eating Acacia, thistle, locust, and other plant seeds, melons, dates, and orthoperan insects (crickets and locusts). They shift to include more foliage in their diet during winter, possibly as a way of increasing moisture intake. Food is brought back to the burrow before being consumed, and parts of the burrow are used for food storage.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Capable of breeding at an early age, as early as two months old, and breeding can occur throughout the year. Courtship and mating behavior is relatively complex. Males display to females by foot-stomping and tail-beating. Mating occurs at night for several hours at a time, during which copulation occurs repeatedly. Females groom males during mating sessions. From one to eight young (average 3.5) are born in each litter. Young are born naked and helpless and are cared for by their mother in the burrow. They develop rapidly, becoming weaned after one month. Gestation is from 21 to 31 days in length, with a 4.5 day long estrus. The length of estrus and gestation is influenced by the mother's nutritional and reproductive state.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Fairly common throughout their range. They tend to occupy habitats that are undesirable to humans, and are therefore less disturbed. However, several other Meriones species are considered Endangered.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Several species are common in the pet trade and in medical and biological research. In the wild, they may be considered agricultural pests because they damage seed and fruit crops. Their burrowing activities may cause damage to structures such as irrigation canals. They are also critical natural components of the ecosystems in which they live. ♦

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