Gerbils are an alternative pocket pet to hamsters. Like hamsters, there are different species of gerbils, but only two are found in pet stores. Because they rarely bite, gerbils can be kept as companion animals for children. Gerbils are also entertaining to watch and love to be kept in pairs.
Gerbils are desert-dwelling animals, ranging in size from roughly 2 inches to almost 8 inches, not including the tail. Though most species are nocturnal, there are breeds that are active both day and night, sleeping in shifts. Gerbils love to live in pairs and also enjoy the attention of humans. Because gerbils rarely bite, they are ideal for children. The lifespan of the captive gerbil is up to seven years, depending on the breed and the level of care provided.
Number of Species
More than 110 species of gerbils are living in African, Indian and Asian deserts. However, only two species are kept as pets, and even then, some states have outlawed their ownership. In California, it is illegal to purchase, import or keep a gerbil as a pet.
Species Kept as Pets
Mongolian and fat-tailed gerbils are the only breeds available for purchase as pets. The Mongolian breed has several varieties including the golden agouti, black, Burmese, light red fox and schimmel. Mongolian gerbils have a lifespan of three to five years and measure up to 5.5 inches, not including their tail. The large variety of colors of the Mongolian gerbil is due to selective breeding. Mongolian gerbils enjoy being kept in pairs from the same litter, but you want to make sure to choose same-sex pairs. Fat-tailed gerbils are smaller, measuring 3.9 inches (not including the tail) and have a lifespan of five to seven years. As their name suggests, the fat-tailed gerbil has a short, fat tail. The species also has a yellow/gray speckled coat that is soft and fluffy. Like their Mongolian cousins, they enjoy being housed in pairs.
Choosing a Pet Gerbil
Fat-tailed gerbils aren't as easy to find as Mongolian gerbils. Where there are many varieties of Mongolian gerbils, the only difference is coat color; they have the same temperament. You should choose a gerbil that doesn't seem to mind being handled. Responsible breeders will spend time socializing the animals before finding new homes.
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Amy Brantley has been a writer since 2006, contributing to numerous online publications. She specializes in business, finance, food, decorating and pets.