The most popular pet gerbil is the Mongolian Gerbil which lives on the steppes, deserts, and semi-deserts of Mongolia, China, and the Russian Federation. They live in places where the soil is sandy but not entirely sand. Gerbils build their nests and tunnels underground and stay there during the freezing nights and very hot days. Their most active time is during dusk and dawn when the temperature is moderate.
As a whole, gerbils have adapted to life in steppes, deserts, and semi-deserts in many ways. They don’t need much water, clean themselves in the sand, camouflage extremely well to hide from predators, stay underground when the temperature is too hot or too cold, and many more fascinating suvival tricks.
Gerbils are very active, energetic, and social animals that live in groups of at least two individuals. There are around 100 different gerbil species all around the world, but the species that are sold in most pet stores is the Mongolian Gerbil.
You can see them in black, white, grey, and all shades of brown in the pet stores, but the gerbils in the wild are all sand-colored to camouflage properly in their environment.
In the following, you will find a lot of information about where and how gerbils live in the wild.
Where do Gerbils Live in the Desert?
Gerbils in the wild do not all live in the desert. The Mongolian gerbils for example live in the grassland, shrubland, steppes, clay or sandy desert, and mountain valleys. They all live in climates that are very dry all the time, often extremely hot during the day, and very cold during the night.
As a whole, gerbils live in dry areas such as the steppes, desert, and semi-desert with extreme temperatures and build their burrows underground to protect themselves from the heat, cold, and from predators.
They sleep and hide in burrows that they dig into the soil. In order to create a stable tunnel system and nest, they often build their burrows close to plants and take advantage of the plant’s roots to support the walls and ceiling of their homes.
What Temperatures Can Gerbils Survive?
Gerbils in the wild live in areas with extreme temperatures. They can survive temperatures of -40° C during extremely long winters (October to April) and 50° C during summer. They live in regions with very low annual precipitation and have perfectly adapted to these conditions.
This does not mean that gerbils can survive these temperatures. When the temperatures are very hot or very cold, gerbils stay underground in their burrows where the temperature is constantly moderate, and they cuddle to keep each other warm when it’s cold outside.
Gerbils have a potential life span of 2 to 4 years, but most gerbils in the wild do not survive their first year.
Pet gerbils are not able to survive extreme temperatures. They have to be kept indoors in a room with natural light, but not directly in sunlight to avoid overheating of the cage. They do best in a room with a normal room temperature, that is not too humid. Gerbils should therefore not be kept in bathrooms.
Can Gerbils Get Overheated?
Yes, gerbils can get overheated. Pet gerbils are not used to extreme temperatures and can easily get overheated if the temperatures rise quickly in glass tanks. Direct sunlight can cause a glass cage to overheat very fast, therefore a cage should never be in a place with direct sunlight.
The first sign of an overheated gerbil is panting and laying down in the tank. Sometimes a gerbil will also try to move the bedding in order to find a cool spot to lie on.
Can Gerbils Freeze to Death?
Yes, gerbils can freeze to death. The only way gerbils survive extremely cold temperatures in the wild is the fact that they stay underground and cuddle to keep each other warm. Gerbils are warm-blooded and try to maintain a steady body temperature all the time.
How do Gerbils Survive Predators in the Wild?
Gerbils are survival artists. They are prey animals and have some impressive features to avoid and survive predators in the wild.
Gerbils Camouflage Very Well
The most obvious feature is their fur. The gerbils fur has light grey roots is sand-colored in the middle and has a black tip. They blend in perfectly with their environment and make them almost invisible to the human eye and less visible to the eyes of predators.
Gerbils Don’t Smell
Compared to other rodents such as rats or mice, gerbils are less smelly. This feature makes it harder for predators to find gerbils in the wild.
Gerbils Have Excellent Senses
Gerbils have very good hearing and good peripheral vision which helps them to detect predators quickly and warn other gerbils and hide before being seen.
Gerbils Can Jump
Compared to other rodents, gerbils have very strong hind legs which make them excellent jumpers. This feature helps them escape predators that do not expect gerbils to simply jump into the air.
There is a lot of fun video footage on the internet of gerbils jumping in the air to escape an attacking predator and hitting the predator in the face during the jump.
Gerbils Can Live Without Their Tail
If a predator manages to catch a gerbil’s tail, a part of the tail will be thrown off and the gerbil can escape. It is a disadvantage to live without a tail, but the gerbil might get the chance to escape from this attack. Unlike some reptiles, gerbils are not able to grow their tails back.
Gerbils Warn Each Other
Gerbils are very social animals that live together in groups of at least two individuals. They care for their family members and warn each other by thumping their tails if there is any sign of danger. This sign will make all gerbils hide in their burrows to avoid any dangerous situation.
Gerbils Build Many Ways to Escape a Burrow
Gerbils build big underground burrows with many tunnels and holes to enter and escape. If a predator manages to enter the tunnel system, the gerbil family can still escape from one of the other exits.
How do Gerbils Survive Without Water?
Wild gerbils live in dry regions and don’t need a lot of water to survive. But it is not true to say that they can survive without water, because just like all rodents, gerbils need water to survive.
As a whole, gerbils cannot survive without water. They need a lot less water than most other rodents, urinate less, and can get most of the moisture they need from the food they eat, but they cannot go completely without water.
Gerbils are able to process the water that they drink efficiently and can survive several days without drinking. They get most of the moisture they need from the plants they eat as there are usually no lakes or rivers in steppes and deserts. They can retain water in their fat cells and urinate only in small amounts.
What do Gerbils Eat in the Wild
Food is scarce in steppes and deserts. This is why gerbils hoard whatever they can find in their burrows. They eat seeds, plants, nuts, fruits, berries, and insects such as worms, crickets, and beetles in the wild. Gerbils are omnivorous animals and feed off both plants and insects.
Can Pet Gerbils Survive Outside?
Gerbils are bred in captivity for over 90 years already. They still behave like their relatives in the wild in many ways, but they have not lived in the wild for too many generations to be able to go back to nature.
Pet gerbils are born in captivity and are used to being fed and groomed. Depending on where you live, they might be able to survive for a few weeks, but since gerbils are originally from the steppes and the desert, they are doomed to die in residential areas where the conditions are unlike everything they would need to survive.
Lisa is one of the two founders of Animal-Knowledge. She has been very interested in animals and insects from a very young age and has owned different kinds of pets such as snails, ants, fish, turtles, mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, a dog, … you get the idea 🙂