Fat-tailed gerbil (Pachyuromys duprasi)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderRodentia
FamilyMuridae
GenusPachyuromys (1)
SizeTotal length: 14.8 - 18.3 cm (2)
Tail length: 5.5 - 6.2 cm (2)
Weight22 - 44.6 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The fat-tailed gerbil takes its name from its thick, club-shaped tail, which, at around six centimetres, is considerably shorter than that of most other gerbils, in proportion to body length (2). The function of this odd-shaped tail is similar to that of a camel’s hump, in that excess fat deposits and water can be stored in it for times of famine or drought (3). The tail is pink in colour and covered in bristly fur, although it lacks the brush-like tip that is characteristic of other gerbil species (3). The fat-tailed gerbil has a rather broad and flat body, covered in a thick, fluffy coat of fur. Most individuals have a mottled yellow and black colouration with pure white underparts, although some individuals may be grey. The eyes are large and black, and the head is elongated, ending in a pointed snout (4). The fat-tailed gerbil is the only known species of gerbil to have four teeth in the lower jaw, as opposed to the six found in all other species (5).

This North African species occurs in Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and north-western Egypt (1).

The fat-tailed gerbil is a desert dweller, which thrives in arid, rocky environments with sparse vegetation (1). Although it is fully capable of excavating its own burrows, this gerbil will often occupy abandoned burrows of other species (2).

While the vast majority of rodents in North Africa are herbivorous, the fat-tailed gerbil is one of few rodent species that actively prey on insects. It takes a wide range of prey, including beetles, crickets and moths, and some anecdotal evidence even suggests that snails are frequently consumed. The fat-tailed gerbil supplements this diet of insects with plant material, including seeds, roots, leaves and fruit (2) (6).

The fat-tailed gerbil reaches sexual maturity at two months old, at which point females are capable of producing up to three litters per year of three to six young, which are weaned after about four weeks (7). Courtship rituals often consist of wrestling between the male and female, while a series of high-pitched “squeaks” are emitted (5).

The fat-tailed gerbil either lives solitarily, or in small colonies or family groups in areas of abundant resources. In captivity, its lifespan can be up to eight years, although this is likely to be much lower in the wild (7).

The fat-tailed gerbil is currently regarded as being a relatively common species with a stable population (1). However, it has recently become popular in the global pet market, due to its remarkable docility in the presence of humans (7), which may impact wild populations. Like many gerbil species, the fat-tailed gerbil is often considered a pest due to its crop-damaging potential, and as a result may be a victim of culling by farmers (2).

There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently in place for the fat-tailed gerbil, and it is unknown whether this species occupies any protected areas (1).

Checked (24/08/10) by Dr Francis Gilbert, Associate Professor, University of Nottingham.
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~plzfg/

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Hoath, R.A. (2009) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
  3. Scott, T.A. (1996) Concise Encyclopedia Biology. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin.
  4. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Balitmore, Maryland.
  5. Hufnagl, E. and Craig-Bennett, A. (1972) Libyan Mammals. Oleander Press, Harrow.
  6. Wassif, K. and Soliman, F. (1979) The food of some wild rodents in the western desert of Egypt. Zoological Society of Egypt Bulletin, 29: 43-51.
  7. Sistermann, R. (2006) The fat-tailed gerbil (Pachyuromys duprasi). Biology, care and breeding of an unusual gerbil. Rodentia, 6: 35-37.