Libyan jird (Meriones libycus)

Synonyms: Meriones erythrourus, Meriones lybicus
GenusMeriones (1)
SizeTotal length: average 29.8 cm (2)
Tail length: average 15.4 cm (2)

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

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).

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).

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).

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.

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).

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

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

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  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)