The Mongolian Gerbil In The Wild

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Gerbil Distribution

The Mongolian gerbil inhabits the steppe regions of the middle, southern and northeastern areas of Mongolia. On expeditions around Mongolia it was rarely found inhabiting the mountainous regions. In the Northwestern region the Mongolian gerbil extends its boundaries into Tuva in Southern Russia. In the northeastern region it again extends its boundaries in to Southern Russia and can be found inhabiting the Transbaikal region. Their habit here extends east from Lake Baikal through Buryatia and into the southern areas around Chita. It was presumed to have reached these northern limits by being transported there. (Hamaganov 1954)

Later research expeditions (Nekipelov,1959; Dulamzeren, 1970) found the Mongolian gerbil occupying the intermediate regions. In the South their range again extends beyond its Mongolian boundaries and they can be found inhabiting areas in Xinjiang Uygur in Northwest China through to areas in Inner Mongolia in Northeast china, in the sandy desert regions of that country. There was also reports in the 1940's of an isolated population of the Mongolian gerbil in Urda which is situated in the far west of Kazakhstan, this is well over 300km away from it's main habitat. Research has shown that from the North to the South of its territory the mongolian gerbil has a preference for light dry soils, but being an adaptive creature it can be found in rocky, and even in the relatively humid areas around its range. Research has also showed us that the further North the gerbils habitat is, the more it seems attracted to areas that are influenced by humans (this is known as synantropism) So much so that it was reported that up to 36% of the rodents in East Mongolian homesteads were found to be gerbils. So whether the area is dry, rocky or relatively humid this gerbil adapts well and makes the most of its landscape.

distribution map of mongolian gerbils

Click here to see the full size map

The plotted locations on the map are taken from several sources, and are listed below.

red dot - Sourced from Mammalian Species No.3. Meriones unguiculatus - E.F.Gulotta.

The records of the various expeditions mentioned in this article are listed clockwise starting with Manchuria (Manzhouli.) Some place names have been updated (in brackets) when necessary.

Manchuli (Manzhouli), Hailar, Kaitung (Tongyu) and Shangsan (Changchun) in Manchuria (Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, China) P.H.Won 1963 - Studies on the ecological observations of Rodentia in Manchuria and Korea. Dissertation, Dong-kook Univ. Seoul, Korea

Chifeng in Jehol- T.Mori 1939- Mammalia of Jehol and district North of it. Rept. First science expedition.

Kweihwacheng (Hohhot ) Shansi, (shanxi) China - G.M. Allen 1940 - The mammals of China and Mongolia.- In Granger, Walter (Ed.) Natural history of Central Asia vol. 11, pt 2. The American museum of natural history, New York.

Ordos Desert northwest of Chingpien, Shinsi, China And Turkul Plateu in the Hami Mts, Sinkiang, China - Chaworth - Musters and Ellerman 1947 - A revision of the genus Meriones. Proc. Zool. Soc. London

West and NW slopes of the Bogdo Ul Mts, Sinkiang (Xinjiang Uygur) China - N. Dawaa 1967 Die Saugetiere des mongolischen Natureschutz parkes Bogdo-Ul-Berge. Saugetierk.

Two localities in Tuva, Two in Buryat (Buryatia) and two in Chita, Russia - N. Bobrinskoy, B.Kuznetzov, and A.Kuzyakin 1965 - Mammals of the U.S.S.R. Moscow. Also mentioned in the article is the type locality from the original 'yellow rats' collected by A.David (black dot) -

Shansi (Shanxi) - Gerbillus unguiculatus Milne - Edwards, 1867. Type locality 'Mongolie' restricted to 'Eul-che-sen-hao'(Ershi san hao) about 10km NE of Tschang-Kur, N Shansi, China by Chaworth-Musters and Ellerman 1947 - On the basis of the published itinerary of the collector (A.David 1867)


In the article Gulotta mentions the ranges of several subspecies which are now regarded today by taxonomists as synonyms for M.unguiculatus, The area marked with * was the River Kobdo as this region, unlike the others mentioned for 'subspecies' was distinct, and wasn't overlapped by the further expeditions.

M. unguiculatus unguiculatus (syn. Chihfengensis) - according to research conducted by Ellerman and Morisson - Scott 1951, this subspecies occupied all the ranges mentioned above except those located around Manchuria.

M.unguiculatus kurauchii (Morisson - Scott 1928) This particular subspecies was restricted to regions within Manchuria

Research conducted by Bobrinskoy, B.Kuznetzov, and A.Kuzyakin in 1965 mention the following locations for two more subspecies, again these are now regarded as synonyms for M.unguiculatus. They are,

M.u. selenginus (Heptner 1949) - occupied the South Western Transbaikal area*

M.u. kozlovi (Satunin 1902) - occupied the lower parts of the river Kobdo, Mongolia*

*Transbaikal is a mountainous region to the east of or 'beyond' (trans-) Lake Baikal in Russia. It stretches for almost 1000km from north to south from the Patomskoye and north Baikal table-lands to the Russian state border. The Transbaikal region covers more than 1000 km from west to east from Lake Baikal to the meridian of the confluence of the Shilka and Argun rivers.

Blue dot source - Ecology and social behaviour of Mongolian gerbils, Meriones unguiculatus, at Xilin Hot, Inner Mongolia, China. Animal behaviour. G. Agren, Zhou Q and Zhong W. 1989.
Orange dot source - Ecology of the desert rodents of the U.S.S.R.- taken from 'Rodents in desert environments' edited By I.Prakesh and P.K. Ghosh

Urda, Kazakhstan and Orhona (Nart) - Bannikov 1954

Zabakailye - Nekipelov 1962. Leontjev, 1954

Tuva - Lavrinenko and Tarasov 1967, Bannikov 1954

Gobi desert - Tarasov 1958

Green dot source - Bij-gol, Dzuungarian Gobi, SW Mongolia - D.Lkhagvasuren and R.Samiya, report of 2002-03 - small mammal community in the dry valley of Bij-gol, Dzuungarian Gobi, South western Mongolia - Dept of zoology, faculty of biology, national uni. Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar - 2004

Another source mentioned in the available literature was Xinjiang in China (not to be confused with Xinjiang Uygur) - However I ommited this area because a question hangs over this particular region because G. B. Corbet, in 1978 in the publication, The mammals of the Palaearctic region: a taxonomic review. British Museum (Natural History) included Xinjiang in the distribution of the species, Whereas Ma Yong, Wang Feng-gui, Jin Shan-ke, and Li Si-hua. in their publication in 1987. [Glires (rodents and lagomorphs) of Northern Xinjiang and their zoogeographical distribution]. Science Press, Academia Sinica, Beijing, didn't record the Mongolian gerbil in this region.

Article written by Eddie Cope