Libyan jird (Meriones libycus)

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Libyan jird fact file

Libyan jird description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderRodentia
FamilyMuridae
GenusMeriones (1)

Similar in appearance to the gerbils to which it is related, the Libyan jird is a fairly small but robust rodent, with soft, fine fur, a broad head, large eyes, and elongated hind legs (3) (4) (5). The body is generally reddish brown in colour, faintly speckled with black, with greyish-white underparts, and a long tail that ends in a black tuft (2) (4) (5) (6). While the body colouration provides good camouflage (4) (5), the contrasting colour of the tail tuft may serve to attract a predator’s attention towards the tail and away from the more vulnerable head and body (4). The Libyan jird can be distinguished from the similar Sundevall’s jird (Meriones crassus) by its dark rather than white claws, its larger size, and the longer tail, which has a more developed tuft (2) (6) (7).

Synonyms
Meriones erythrourus, Meriones lybicus.
Size
Total length: average 29.8 cm (2)
Tail length: average 15.4 cm (2)
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Libyan jird biology

The Libyan jird is well adapted to the desert environment. Able to extract water efficiently from its food, it also minimises water loss by not sweating, and by producing dry faeces and concentrated urine (4). However, unlike many jird and gerbil species, which emerge from the burrow only at night, the Libyan jird may also be active during the day (2) (3) (5) (7). The diet consists mainly of plant material, including seeds, leaves, roots, bulbs and fruit, as well as occasional insects such as locusts (3) (4) (5). The jird often returns to the burrow to eat, and impressive quantities of food, sometimes as much as 10 kilograms of seed, may be stored within chambers inside the burrow (3) (4), which itself may be more than 1.5 metres deep and radiate outwards several metres in a series of tunnels (3).

The Libyan jird is reported to be solitary in some areas, but to form small colonies in others (2) (3), communicating with a range of vocalisations and with thumping of the hind feet (3). A highly mobile species, it frequently changes burrows or even migrates if foraging conditions deteriorate (1). There is little information available on the breeding behaviour of this species, but, like other jirds, it is likely to breed year round in some areas, or during the cooler winter and spring months or after rainfall in others (2) (3) (4) (5). The female may produce two to three litters a year in favourable conditions (3) (4). As in the related Sundevall’s jird (8), the female may give birth to around 3 to 7 young, after a gestation period of up to 31 days (3). The young are born naked, blind and helpless, and are dependent on the female until the fur is grown and the eyes open at around two weeks. Young jirds reach sexual maturity between two to six months old (4).

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Libyan jird range

The Libyan jird has an extensive range, occurring across North Africa, through the Arabian Peninsula and into Asia, as far east as China (1) (2) (3) (7). There is some confusion as to whether the species found in parts of the Arabian Peninsula, such as in the United Arab Emirates, is the Libyan jird or the very similar Arabian jird (Meriones arimalius), previously considered a subspecies of the Libyan jird (1) (2).

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Libyan jird habitat

The Libyan jird inhabits a variety of desert habitats, generally in areas with stabilised dunes (1) (2) (7), but is absent from mountain areas (6) (7). It is often found in river plains, close to wadis, in vegetated areas or oasis gardens, or sometimes in arable land (1) (2). Colonies typically burrow beneath vegetated hummocks (2) (7).

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Libyan jird status

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

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Libyan jird threats

The Libyan jird has a wide distribution and is believed to have a large, stable population, and as such is not considered globally threatened (1). No major threats to the species are known, and it is regarded as a pest in some areas, feeding on crops and damaging irrigation channels and other structures with its burrowing (1) (2) (3) (4). Jirds may also spread disease (3), and the Libyan jird is known to be a major host species for leishmaniasis in some areas (9). Many species of jirds and gerbils are destroyed by gassing, or by the ploughing up of the burrow systems, and in some regions the sweet, lightly coloured meat is considered a delicacy (4). Jirds are also increasingly being kept as pets (10), although the impact on the wild population is unknown.

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Libyan jird conservation

The Libyan jird is found in many protected areas throughout its range, but there are no specific conservation measures currently aimed at this common and widespread rodent (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
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Find out more

To find out more about the Libyan jird and other jird and gerbil species, see:

  • Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  • Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

For more information on the conservation of threatened rodent species see:

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Authentication

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: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk
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Glossary

Gestation
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Wadis
Mountain canyons found in North Africa and the Middle East that only carry water when it rains.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Alsharhan, A et al. (2008) Terrestrial Environment of Abu Dhabi Emirate. Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Firouz, E. (2005) The Complete Fauna of Iran. I. B. Tauris Publishers, London.
  6. Vine, P. (1996) Natural Emirates: Wildlife and Environment of the United Arab Emirates. Trident Press, London.
  7. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  8. Koffler, B.R. (1972) Meriones crassus. Mammalian Species, 9: 1 - 4. Available at:
    http://www.science.smith.edu/departments/Biology/VHAYSSEN/msi/pdf/i0076-3519-009-01-0001.pdf
  9. Rassi, Y., Jalali, M., Javadian, E. and Moatazedian, M.H. (2001) Confirmation of Meriones libycus (Rodentia; Gerbillidae) as the main reservoir host of zoonotic cutaneous leishmaniasis in Arsanjan, Fars Province, South of Iran (1999-2000). Iranian Journal of Public Health, 30: 143 - 144.
  10. Gerbil Information Page (August, 2009)
    http://www.gerbil.info/html/otherlibycus.htm
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Image credit

Libyan jird portrait  
Libyan jird portrait

© Rod Williams / naturepl.com

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