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 fingernail 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.
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