Sundevall’s jird (Meriones crassus)

Also known as: gentle jird, Jerusalem jird, silky jird
GenusMeriones (1)
SizeHead-body length: up to 15 cm (2)
Tail length: up to 15 cm (2)
Weight29 - 60 g (2) (3)

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

Similar in appearance to the gerbils to which it is related, Sundevall’s jird is a relatively small but robust rodent with soft, fine fur, a broad head, large eyes, elongated hind legs, and a long tail ending in a black tuft (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The fur is yellowish to brownish in colour, although individuals vary in colouration depending on the habitat, providing good camouflage against predators (4) (6) (7). The contrasting colour of the tail tuft may serve to attract potential predators towards the tail and away from the more vulnerable head and body (6). The underparts of Sundevall’s jird are white, and the claws are pale, helping to distinguish this species from the slightly larger Libyan jird, Meriones libycus, which has dark or black claws (2) (5) (7) (8). A number of subspecies are recognised (2).

Sundevall’s jird is widely distributed across North Africa, from Morocco to Egypt and Sudan, as well as in southwest Asia, including the Arabian Peninsula, north to Turkey, and as far east as Pakistan (1) (2) (3) (7).

Sundevall’s jird occurs in dry, sandy or gravel deserts, where it often burrows beneath sandy hummocks (1) (2) (7) (8). It may avoid more rocky habitats, and is absent from mountain areas (1) (5) (8) (9).

Sundevall’s jird is well adapted to its harsh environment. Able to extract water efficiently from its food, it also minimises water loss by producing dry faeces and concentrated urine, by not sweating, and by only leaving the burrow at night. The diet consists mostly of plant material, including seeds, roots, bulbs, leaves and fruit, although insects such as locusts and crickets may also be taken (2) (3) (4) (6) (7). Foraging can take place at a considerable distance from the burrow, although the jird tends to return to the burrow to eat (1) (2). Often excavated below tufts of vegetation (2) (7), the burrow varies in complexity from a spiralled tunnel with a single entrance, to complex galleries with as many as 18 entrances, descending more than a metre below ground and attaining a combined shaft length of up to 40 metres. Food storage chambers are often built near the surface, and one or more nest chambers, containing shredded dry vegetation, are found at greater depths (2) (3).

Although sometimes solitary, Sundevall’s jird often lives in small colonies, particularly where food is more abundant (2) (6) (7) (8), and communicates with various vocalisations, as well as by thumping the hind feet (3). Breeding often occurs during the cooler months (1) (2) (7) (9), but when conditions are favourable Sundevall’s jird may breed year round, producing up to three litters a year (3) (6). Litter size is around 3 to 7, the young being born naked, blind and helpless, after a gestation period ranging from 18 to 31 days (2) (3) (9) (10). The fur develops and eyes open by about two weeks, and weaning occurs after a month, by which time the young leave the maternal nest (2) (6) (10). The female may become pregnant again immediately after giving birth (10), and the young jirds can themselves breed from as early as 53 days (2), so numbers may increase rapidly when conditions are favourable (7). The lifespan of Sundevall’s jird is usually around two years in the wild (9), but up to five years in captivity (3).

Sundevall’s jird is a common and widespread species that is not believed to be globally threatened (1). Jirds are often considered pests of agricultural crops, and the burrows sometimes damage irrigation channels, pastures, road and railway embankments, and even the foundations of buildings (3) (6). Wild individuals may also spread diseases (3), such as leishmaniasis (1). Many species of jirds and gerbils are destroyed by gassing, or by ploughing up the burrow systems. In some regions the sweet, lightly coloured meat is considered a delicacy (6), and Sundevall’s jird is also increasingly being kept as a pet (11), although the impacts of this on the wild population are unknown.

Sundevall’s jird occurs in many protected areas throughout its range (1). However, there are no specific conservation measures currently in place for this widespread and abundant small rodent.

To find out more about Sundevall’s jird and other jird and gerbil species, see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)