The Charming Dipodil Diaries
By Aed Ní Bhroin
I first obtained Charming Dipodils (Gerbillus amoenus) in May 2004 when I travelled to Cardiff to collect some animals. I got my 2 females from my friend Eddie Cope, who first imported the species into the United Kingdom in 2001.
I named them Charmer and Dreamer and they soon settled down into Irish life.
Sadly however Charmer passed away after a number of months, and Dreamer seemed lonely. So on a 2nd trip to Cardiff in April 2005, Eddie surprised me with an old retired male dipodil called Comma, who was also lonely having outlived his last mate.
Due to the fact that Comma was geriatric and Dreamer was well past ideal breeding age we didn’t expect that offspring would be a possibility.
After Comma settled, I split caged him and Dreamer for a couple of days and with things looking good, I allowed them to interact in a large tank together to see how they’d behave. After a few cautious sniffs, Comma wasted no time and mounted her.
I was surprised to see such acceptance so quickly and mused on the idea of babies but never truly believed it as likely. Finally content with the company they had craved, they settled down like an old married couple, with Dreamer clearly in charge.
On the 18th of May however, I noticed Dreamer look somewhat rounded and realised she was pregnant. After overcoming my initial shock I became worried about how her body would cope with birth at her age and kept a close eye on her and upped her protein intake.
The next evening I checked her and she was looking very tired and standing over 5 tiny little babies. They all had full milky tummies and were in a cosy nest so I left her to look after them; relieved she was ok and excited at the birth, four females and a male.
She continued to care for them but when the pups were 4 days old and after she was being overly hormonal and protective of her pups with the curious dad, I placed Comma into a small cage inside the tank so they could still see and smell each other but nobody would get hurt. However intolerant Dreamer was with Comma being in close proximity to the pups, she was very tolerant towards me and allowed me to handle them and check them out. This tolerance would later prove to be a blessing, because on the 7th day of life for the tiny pups I went to check on them as usual, but was concerned by the lack of squeaking coming from the nest. I opened the nest and was dismayed to see the 5 pups were a pale grey colour, with empty bellies and were unmoving. Believing Dreamer had rejected them, I reached in to remove the bodies. But at first touch I realised 2 things. Firstly that Dreamer had not rejected them because they were warm, and secondly they were alive. Barely. Somewhat panicky, I rushed in and checked Eddie’s web page on hand rearing Shaws Jirds to check what milk to get and to read quickly how to feed young pups. Then I sent my sister to buy some evaporated milk because I didn’t have the time to go to the vets for KMR just yet. After diluting the milk and testing the warmth with my wrist, I picked up the 1st pup and dabbed its lips with a droplet of milk. It lapped up the droplet eagerly so I continued my dabbing method.
Even a 1ml syringe was too large for the small mouth of the pup so it was impossible to allow it to suckle. Instead I had to painstakingly dab tiny droplets of milk onto its mouth so it could lap it up. I think even squirting the tiniest amount into the pup’s mouth would have drowned it. After repeating this until I could see all pups had full bellies again, (transparent abdomens are handy!) I placed them into their nest and watched to see how their mum would react to their strange smell. She approached and sniffed once, then tucking the babies more cosily into their nest and covering them with tissue, before joining them in the nest to keep them warm. Now that I had a moment to think, I got out some oral rehydration solution and went to the vet to get some Cimicat, a form of KMR. Then I went back to my rodent shed to examine Dreamer and find the reason she hadn’t fed her pups. It was soon apparent what had happened. Her nipples were dry and cracked and there was no sign of milk. A quick visit to the vet confirmed that she had fully dried up and was no longer lactating and was prescribed some Baytril to give her a boost.
And so I began my new role as a dipodil foster mum.
Knowing this was a fulltime job, having to feed the pups once an hour for at least a few more days before I could lengthen the time gap, I made up a timetable for feeding the pups to ensure I didn’t miss an hour. Every third feed was of the oral rehydration solution to keep them hydrated and the other feeds were cimicat diluted to 1:3. The pups fed readily and 3 were very strong, but 1 little girl and the only boy were still quite small and weak.
I let my father name the little boy Copperfield, or Copper as I call him, and I named the others Kenya, India, Littlefoot and Angel. Angel was the smallest one with a somewhat lighter coat colour who I worried wouldn’t survive, hence the name.
She proved herself to be a little fighter who held her corner during feeding time, even if she did need a little help to hold her head up to the syringe.
Days and nights passed and the pups grew. The fuzz turned to a proper coat, and their transparent bellies became covered with a layer of soft pure white fur.
At this stage Dreamer regained a small amount of lactation in 2 of her nipples. It wasn’t much but it allowed me to get to sleep most of the night before I needed to fully feed the pups again.
Then on the 12th day, when I went in to check the pups, I saw a tiny little beady eye squinting at me from the nest. Copper had an eye open. The next day both his eyes had opened along with Kenya’s, and the following day, there were 10 little eyes staring widely at the strange new world around them. They began to test out their long legs and explore their tank, much to the frustration of Dreamer, who firmly believed it was her life’s mission to contain them in the nest.
The pups began experimenting with food, figuring out for themselves that woodshavings aren’t edible but nuts and seeds are.
By June 16th, almost 4 weeks old, they were weaned and I was relieved of my parental duty.
I let Comma out into the main tank a couple of days afterwards to meet his pups in the fur, after he had been showing a lot of interest in them from his cage. He was very curious towards them and was not aggressive whatsoever so it looked like his future with his son was promising.
Leaving the 4 daughters to keep their mother company in her old age, I took Copper to meet his father again in their new tank on June 23rd and sure enough Comma was clearly delighted at some company, and though a bit frightened at first, Copper quickly took comfort in the warmth of his daddy’s coat. They are now inseparable and follow each other around their tank all the time.
And though Comma continues to defy the natural laws of aging, passing 3yrs old and looking younger than ever, I am planning to backcross him to a daughter or two to increase the tiny Charming Dipodil population in the UK and Ireland, and to ensure that Copper will have company once his father passes away.