North African gerbil (Gerbillus campestris)

Synonyms: Dipodillus campestris, Gerbillus quadrimaculatus
GenusGerbillus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 8.1 cm (2)
Tail length: 10.6 cm (2)
Weight28 g (2)

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

Also sometimes known as the rock gerbil because of its habitat preferences (3), the North African gerbil has sandy coloured fur on its upperparts, providing good camouflage, and white fur on the underparts. It has striking large, dark eyes and a long, furry tail with a darker tuft of fur at the end (4). An excellent climber, the North African gerbil uses its long tail to grip, unlike other gerbil species which simply use the tail to balance (4). At maturity the female becomes bulkier and more rounded than the male, which allows the sexes to be more easily identified (5). The large, prominent ears are unusual in that they can move around independently of each other to follow sounds, and are folded backwards on top of the head when the North African gerbil is threatened (4).

As the name suggests, this species occurs in North Africa and the Sahara Desert (6). It is most abundant in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, and has a patchier distribution in Libya, Mali, Niger, Sudan, and Egypt (1).

The North African gerbil lives mainly in arid, rocky areas (1) (7), but may also be found in desert environments and on arable land (1). Like most gerbils, this species digs burrows in sandy soil, but also shelters in rock crevices (8).

The North African gerbil is primarily nocturnal, a behaviour that enables the gerbil not only to avoid the heat of the day, but also to feed at night when its favoured foods may be covered in dew, thus increasing its water intake. In addition, the North African gerbil produces extremely concentrated urine and dry faeces in order to minimise water loss in its arid environment (8).

The burrow, in which the gerbil spends the daytime, tends to be very simple with just a single entrance, which the gerbil blocks up with sand when it is inside to protect it from predators (5). It uses the burrow to raise young and store food, which includes nuts, seeds, roots, young shoots of plants and grasses and some insects (4).

The North African gerbil is able to breed continuously throughout the year (4), giving birth to litters of two to four pups after a gestation period of 20 to 23 days (6). The pups open their eyes after 17 to 20 days and are weaned off milk after 4 weeks (4).

The North African gerbil is considered to be a pest in agricultural areas, as seed crops are an ideal and abundant food source for this species. Farmers have been known to poison gerbils and dig up, flood or burn gerbil burrows in an effort to protect their crops (9). However, this is not currently considered to be a major threat to the survival of this species (1).

The North African gerbil is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction due to its large and relatively stable population and wide distribution (1). As it is not known whether this species naturally occurs in any legally protected areas (1), further research could be conducted to give a better understanding of its presence or absence in these areas.

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

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Granjon, L., Aniskin, V.M., Volobouev, V. and Sicard, B. (2002) Sand-dwellers in rocky habitats: a new species of Gerbillus (Mammalia: Rodentia). Journal of Zoology, 256: 181-190.
  3. Cockrum, E.L., Vaughan, T.C. and Vaughan, P.J. (2009) Gerbillus andersoni De Winton, a species new to Tunisia. Mammalia, 40(3): 467-474.
  4. Osborn, D.J. and Helmy, I. (1980) The contemporary land mammals of Egypt (including Sinai). Fieldiana Zoology, 5: 1-579.
  5. Cockrum, E.L. and Setzer, H.W. (1976) Types and type localities of North African rodents. Mammalia, 40(4): 633-670.
  6. Musser, G.G. and Carleton M.D. (2005) Superfamily Muroidea. In: Wilson, D.E. and Reeder, D.M. (Eds.) Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Available at:
  7. Wolff, J.O. and Sherman, P.W.(2007) Rodent Societies: An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  8. Hoath, R. (2003) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press. Cairo, Egypt.
  9. Fiedler, L.A. (1994) Rodent Pest Management in Eastern Africa. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Colorado.