Cheesman’s gerbil (Gerbillus cheesmani)

Also known as: Kuwaiti desert gerbil
GenusGerbillus (1)
Weight36 - 40 g (2)

Cheesman’s gerbil is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A medium-sized gerbil (3), Cheesman’s gerbil (Gerbillus cheesmani) is named after the military officer, explorer and ornithologist Colonel Robert Ernest Cheesman (4). The upperparts of Cheesman’s gerbil are sandy-beige, while the belly is white (5). This species has a relatively long tail (6), and the soles of its feet are hairy (6) (7).

Like many gerbil species, Cheesman’s gerbil is rather mouse-like in appearance (8), with large, black eyes (5) that are positioned high on its head, giving this small mammal a wide field of vision (8).

Cheesman’s gerbil is found across the Arabian Peninsula, as well as in Iran and Iraq (1) (6). It is possible that Cheesman’s gerbil may also have a limited distribution in parts of Syria and Jordan. This species occurs from sea level to elevations of approximately 450 metres (1).

Cheesman’s gerbil is found on sandy soils and mud flats in desert areas (1) (6) (7). In some areas of its range, this species occurs in sand dunes (1) (7).

In Saudi Arabia, Cheesman’s gerbil is found in areas associated with a variety of plants, including Haloxylon salicornicum, Ephera alata and Artemesia bushes (6) (7), which provide it with shelter (1).

Cheesman’s gerbil is a solitary, nocturnal rodent (1) (7). Gerbil species are unable to survive in extremely hot conditions, and tend to live in burrows underground during the day in order to keep cool. The entrance to the burrow is usually blocked to reduce water loss, and the gerbil uses its tail to flick sand over the burrow entrance to conceal it (8).

Cheesman’s gerbil avoids the oppressive heat of the desert sun by foraging at night. It is a gramnivorous species, meaning that it primarily feeds on grasses and seeds, although it may be omnivorous depending on the resources available (1). This species has been observed foraging on the edge of sabkha (flat, salty coastal plains) (9).

At night, grasses and seeds are permeated with dew, and gerbils will take these food items back to their burrows to improve the humidity. As an adaptation to living in tough, dry desert conditions, the digestive system of gerbils is efficient at extracting water from food. The amount of water lost in the faeces is minimal, and only a few drops of concentrated urine are produced (8).

A further adaptation to living in the desert is the presence of hair on the soles of the Cheesman’s gerbil’s feet, which enables it to run easily across sand (7). This species is known to make considerable leaps (5), and the long tail is used to help with balance (8).

Cheesman’s gerbil is predated upon by nocturnal species such as the Arabian red fox (Vulpes vulpes arabica) and Rüppell’s sand fox (Vulpes rüppelli sabea) (10). Gerbil species have developed several adaptations which enable them to avoid predation, such as the long tail which can be used as a decoy to distract predators. Gerbils, particularly those living in open desert habitats, have a large middle ear, which allows these small rodents to hear low frequency sounds, such as the beating of an incoming owl’s wings (8).

Little is known about the breeding biology of Cheesman’s gerbil, although in the Arabian Peninsula the breeding season is thought to be relatively long. The female Cheesman’s gerbil gives birth to up to eight young per litter (1) (6).

There are no known major threats to Cheesman’s gerbil (1).

There are currently no known specific conservation measures in place for Cheesman’s gerbil, although it is found in many protected areas which may provide it with some level of protection (1).

For more information about conservation in the Emirates:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2011)
  2. Al-Balool, F.Y. (2002) Functional activities of the colon of the desert gerbil (Gerbillus cheesmani). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part C, 132: 153-160.
  3. Sabry, I., Al-Ghaith, L. and Al-Azemi, M. (1999) Pineal gland of the Kuwaiti desert gerbil (Gerbillus cheesmani): Alterations of its structure by bromocriptine treatment. Endocrine Regulations, 33: 69-78.
  4. Beolens, B., Watkins, M. and Grayson, M. (2009) The Eponym Dictionary of Mammals. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  5. Vine, P. (1996) Natural Emirates: Wildlife and Environment of the United Arab Emirates. Trident Press Ltd., UK.
  6. Qumsiyeh, M.B. (1996) Mammals of the Holy Land. Texas Tech University Press, Texas.
  7. Scott, D.M. and Dunstone, N. (2000) Environmental determinants of the composition of desert-living rodent communities in the north-east Badia region of Jordan. Journal of Zoology (London), 251: 481-494.
  8. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  9. Barth, H-J. and Böer, B. (2002) Sabkha Ecosystems, Volume 2. Springer, Berlin.
  10. Lenain, D.M., Olfermann, E. and Warrington, S. (2004) Ecology, diet and behaviour of two fox species in a large, fenced protected area in central Saudi Arabia. Journal of Arid Environments, 57: 45-60.