Kingdom: Animalia
Phyllum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Muridae
Subfamily: Gerbilinae
Genus: Meriones
Species: Meriones unguiculatus                                             (Mongolian gerbil)

Getting to know the Gerbilinae subfamily:

Gerbil is a common name for small rodents in the Gerbilinae subfamily. Gerbilinae also known as gerbils, jirds and relatives is a large Old World Muridae subfamily and it is the most well-defined subfamily in Muroidea which members have much in common. It includes 16 genera in which are over 100 species of rodents like sand rats and jirds all of which are adapted to arid habitats with lack of water.The Gerbilinae subfamily is caracterized by a mouse-like apereance with a long tail and long narrow hind legs with claws. Most are primarily diurnal meaning that they are mostly active during the day, and almost all are omnivorous (they eat food from plant and animal origin). However, many pet gerbils tend to be more nocturnal meaning they tend to be awake during night time more than at day time.

The term gerbil

The term gerbil  comes from the word jerboa or gerbo, a latin word which describes them as a variety of small nocturnal hopping desert rodents with long hind legs and a long tufted tail from the family Dipodiae. However, they are an urelated group of rodents belongin to the same order Rodentia but different families named Dipodiae and Muridae.

The most widely known species of gerbils is the Mongolian variety also known as Meriones unguiculatus or the Mongolian gerbil/jird and it is usual kept as a pet or experimental animal – it is known as the domesticated gerbil (tame and kept as a pet or on a farm).

Legend of the name gerbil

Gerbils scientific name Meriones unguiculatus roughly translated means „clawed warrior“ or „warrior with claws“.  It most likely originates from a name Meriones who was a Greek mythological warrior and the word unguiculatus which associates with the meaning of fingernailGengis Kahn or claw.

There is another legend which says that the name was given by an emperor
Genghis Khan when a gerbil bit the foot of an assassin who was about to strike the emperor in sleep. That caused him pain and he yelled waking the emperor and from that moment the emperor and his gerbil or clawed wariror were inseparable.

Scientific naming of gerbils

Of course those are only legends and it doesn’t necesarely need to be true. There is a much more believable statement by which says that the Mongolian gerbil is in fact a true specie of jirds and not gerbils. They are given a same generic name because of their similar psychological and physical features.
Meriones in fact is  a Greek mythological warrior who was wearing a helmet with teeth on it but that wasn’t the intention in describing and naming of gerbils. The original description of Meriones given by Johann Karl Willhelm Illliger , actually derives from a greek word for femur. That meaning is conected to their capability of leaping for which their femur is very well adapted for. In that case Meriones unguiculatus roughly translated means clawed, femur adapted hopping animal.

I hope you liked this post if you did or not let me know in the comments. If you have any ideas, suggestions or wishes what you would like to read about just let me know down below.


  1. Alejandra

    Hi Kristina,

    So nice to stop on your website about Gerbils, my sister loves animal, a few years ago she got a couple of gerbils, they were really easy to take care.

    I wonder how long can a gerbil live as a pet?

    My sister used to kept them in a cage, is that correct to do that?

    1. Kristina Post author

      Hi Alejandra! I am glad you like it.
      Yes, gerbils are preety easy to care for.
      As pets they usually live 3-5 years, but I read that the oldest known gerbil is about 8 years old, and yes, it is a correct way to keep them in cages just in a proper sized cage. I will be posting soon about that if you want to know more.:)

  2. Rina

    Oh I love your article. So cute, my grand children would love to have a gerbil. I also enjoyed the story of the emperor and his clawed warior so thank you.
    I don’t think we have gerbil here in our country. I have seen similar looking animals as the gerbil you have pictured in a petshop here but usually bigger like a rat.
    How big can a gerbil grow?

    1. Kristina Post author

      I am glad that you like it. Gerbils are ideal pets for children because they don’t bite unless they feel threatened and are very curious about everything, also very easy to keep. Which country are you from? In my country they are rare and hard to find in pet shops.
      A gerbil grows to about the size of a palm thats up to 4oz/4-8 inch/10-12 cm.

  3. rjkennedy

    I viewed your site about Gerbils. I personally enjoyed your site because it gives a clear breakdown of what gerbils are, where they originate and what countries they come from.
    I never knew about the different classifications of gerbils and I also wasn’t aware of the many different types. So this was very educational for me.

    Gerbil’s always reminded me of little rodents. this would bring me back to my days in the public housing projects. (we saw many gerbil-like rodents back then. Thank God thinks are so much better now). It sounds as though you breed and raise these little creatures. The education your site provide is amazing and a person could never absorb enough knowledge on God’s little creatures.

    1. Kristina Post author

      I am glad you enjoyed my website. I tried to make the post as interesting as possible. It’s fascinating how many genera and species of rodents and gerbils exist.
      You are right there is never enough knowledge even if it’s about these small creatures. Thank you for your nice comment.

  4. B. A. Scott

    Thank you very much for the very in-depth informative article.

    After reading the legend given by the emperor Genghis Khan, I think I’ll go out and get myself a gerbil. No robber would even suspect being attacked by my guard gerbil! I suppose I’ll have to post a sign on my property now. “Beware of Attack Gerbil.”

    I’m just kidding. They seem like real delightful creatures.

    1. Kristina Post author

      You are welcome, I am glad that this post gave you some good information.

      The little fella will protect you no matter what, no one shall trespass!
      Yes, I agree. Gerbils are just too adorable.
      P.S. Love your sense of humor, Cheers!


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