Lesser Egyptian jerboa (Jaculus jaculus)
|Size||Body length: 9.5 – 13 cm (2)|
Tail length: 15 - 19 cm (2)
|Weight||45 – 75 g (2)|
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
This small rodent is sometimes likened to a tiny kangaroo due to its incredibly large hind legs, and hopping form of locomotion (3) (4). The lesser Egyptian jerboa has three toes on each of its hind feet and a very long tail, used for balance when jumping (2) (3). It has large eyes and ears and a rather stubby snout (4), and its coat is a pale or dark sandy colour with a paler underside (5).
This species is particularly abundant in Egypt, hence its common name, but its distribution also extends across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, from Morocco as far east as Iran (1) (5).
The lesser Egyptian jerboa inhabits desert areas, which may be either sandy or rocky (1) (5).
The lesser Egyptian jerboa is a strictly nocturnal species, feeding on seeds, insects and succulent parts of desert grasses, which it detects using its acute sense of smell. Amazingly, it does not need to drink in order to survive the arid desert conditions, relying on its food to provide it with all its water needs (4) (5) (6). The lesser Egyptian jerboa can travel long distances in search of food, up to ten kilometres a day, which it easily covers thanks to its large feet and hopping stride; the jerboa is known to leap up to three metres in a single bound (6).
The lesser Egyptian jerboa lives in burrows, dug in counter clockwise spirals with its forelimbs and teeth, which it uses for a variety of functions. The permanent burrows are often complex systems with multiple entrances and exits, consisting of storage chambers, hibernation chambers and a nesting chamber at the very bottom. The burrows are well-hidden and sealed with a plug of sand in late spring and summer to keep the heat out and moisture in, providing an ideal place for the animal to rest, evade predators and escape from the heat of the day. During particularly hot or dry spells the jerboa will aestivate in the burrow and in winter it is thought to hibernate, but this has only been reported in a few individuals (5) (6) (7).
Not much is known about the breeding habits of jerboas due to their solitary and nocturnal nature. However, breeding is known to occur at least twice a year, between June to July and from October to December. Males attempt to attract females by performing a bizarre ritual display; standing on its hind legs in front of an approaching female, the male faces his potential mate and then begins to slap the female at regular intervals with his short front limbs. A successful mating usually produces a litter of four to five young that become independent at around eight to ten weeks, and sexually mature at eight to twelve months (1) (8). On the whole, the lesser Egyptian jerboa is silent but when disturbed or handled it can emit grunting noises or shrill shrieks (6).
The lesser Egyptian jerboa is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction, due to its wide range and large population (1). Despite this, the species still faces some threats, primarily hunting for use as bait in falconry and as a food source for humans in certain areas (1).
There are currently no specific conservation measures in place for the lesser Egyptian jerboa; however, this species’ range does fall into a number of protected areas (1) (5).
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- Aestivate: to become dormant during the summer or dry season, analogous to hibernation in winter.
- Hibernation: a winter survival strategy characteristic of some mammals in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer.
- Nocturnal: active at night.
IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
- Qumsiyeh, M.B. (1996) Mammals of the Holy Land. Texas Tech University Press, Texas.
- Hoath, R. (2009) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, Egypt.
- Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press, London.
- Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
- Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press Limited, London.
- Roots, C. (2006) Nocturnal Animals. Greenwood Press, Westport.
BBC Science and Nature (November, 2009)