Greater Egyptian gerbil (Gerbillus pyramidum)

GenusGerbillus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 10 - 14 cm (2)
Tail length: 12 - 18 cm (2)
Weight37 - 67 g (2)

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

The largest gerbil in Egypt (3), the greater Egyptian gerbil has orange-brown to tawny-grey fur on its upperparts (4), often with a darker stripe running down the spine and a white patch on the rump (2). In common with most other gerbils, the greater Egyptian gerbil has a creamy white belly (2), and large ears and claws (5). The long tail is pale brown on top and white underneath, with a black, bushy tuft at the end (2). The long hind feet measure roughly a quarter of the body length (5) and the soles of the feet are hairy (2).

Despite its name, the greater Egyptian gerbil is found not only in Egypt, but has a range that stretches across North Africa, from Mali, through Niger, Chad and Sudan, to Egypt and Israel (1) (5).

The greater Egyptian gerbil occurs in a wide range of sandy desert habitats, showing a preference for unstable sand dunes with little vegetation cover (6).

Typically solitary, due to limited food availability (7), the greater Egyptian gerbil is nocturnal, spending the daytime in a burrow (8). The burrow may have one to five entrances (2), which can be blocked with sand once the gerbil is inside (8).

Like many other gerbil species, the greater Egyptian gerbil forages at dusk and during the night for seeds (its preferred food) and other plant parts (2) (6). The greater Egyptian gerbil is known to store food reserves to cope with periods of food scarcity in its desert habitat; this often includes storing camel dung, which the gerbil picks through to find undigested seeds (2). It rarely ventures into open habitat because it is hunted by owls, but may also avoid shrubs due to the presence of snakes (9).

This species breeds between late winter and early spring, when increased rainfall boosts the amount of food available (10). The greater Egyptian gerbil gives birth to an average of four young at a time, after a gestation period of 25 days (4). The young, which are born naked and helpless with their eyes closed (5), are weaned after 25 to 30 days (8).

The greater Egyptian gerbil is currently not considered to be at risk of extinction, as it has a wide distribution, presumed large population, and is unlikely to be declining rapidly as there are no known major threats to the species (1). However, Gerbillus species tend to live in harsh environments, in habitat that is easily disturbed by human activity, which could pose a future threat to the greater Egyptian gerbil (5). It is possible that the growth of agricultural activities in its range, such as in the Nile Valley, may have negative impacts on the species (1).

The greater Egyptian gerbil is not known to be present in any protected areas and is not currently the subject of any specific conservation efforts (1).

Checked (24/08/10) by Dr Francis Gilbert, Associate Professor, University of Nottingham.

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Aulagnier, S., Haffner, P., Mitchell-Jones, A.J., Moutou, F. and Zima, J. (2009) Mammals of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. A&C Black Publishers Limited, London.
  3. Hoath, R. (2009) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
  4. Qumsiyeh, M.B. (1996) Mammals of the Holy Land. Texas Tech University Press, Texas.
  5. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  6. Abramsky, Z., Rosenzweig, M.L. and Pinshow, B. (1991) The shape of a gerbil isocline measured using principles of optimal habitat selection. Ecology, 72(1): 329-340.
  7. MacDonald, D.W. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. Gerbil Information Page (April, 2010)
  9. Kotler, B.P., Blaustein, L. and Brown, J.S. (1992) Predator facilitation: the combined effect of snakes and owls on the foraging behaviour of gerbils. Annales Zoologici Fennici, 29: 199-206
  10. Soliman, S. and Mohallal, E.M. (2009) Patterns of reproduction in two sympatric gerbil species in arid Egypt. Integrative Zoology, 4: 248-253.