The Rock Gerbil ~ Gerbillus campestris
- Maintenance in captivity
Loche first described Gerbillus campestris in 1867 from specimens collected in the Constantine Province, Philip Ville, Algeria. This particular gerbil species is now thought to be extinct in the U.K. Originating from the Berlin zoo, they were imported around 1999, and although they initially bred well, less than a handful of people kept them, and sadly their fertility declined over the years mainly through forced inbreeding, and new blood never emerged to keep the breeding lines healthy and vigorous.
Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan and Somalia
In the wild they are found in dry country around sandy or rocky areas that is scarce in vegetation. Their burrows are usually simple in nature with a single entrance, and when inside the burrow the entrance is closed with sand.
The U.K. strain was a light agouti in colour, with a white belly. The tail was long, furred with a darkened tail tuft. The nails were clear and the ears were large and pigmented. The Gerbillus campestris that came to the U.K. were extremely docile, and did well in colony type conditions. Introductions between males and females were never aggressive. They were nocturnal in nature but occasionally came out for short periods during the day. They had no visible scent glands, and females became much bulkier and rounded than the males when mature. The eyes and ears were large in proportion to their bodies. Although they burrow, they were excellent climbers too, and used their long tails to help grip an item to help support them as they climbed, where as most gerbil species just use their tails as a balance pole. Their ears, which in most gerbils fold down when threatened, fold backwards onto the top of the head. Their ears also moved around independently to follow sounds.
Over the years there have been around nineteen species - group names that have been associated with this species, by various different authors. These were summarised by Ley in1983 in the publication “Taxonomy of the genus Gerbillus (Rodentia: Gerbillinae) with comments on the applications of generic and sub-generic names and an annotated list of species”. He noted that many of the synonyms were unidentifiable and that most lacked supportive evidence. Several differing geographical populations were also reviewed by different authors. These include,
K. Kowalski and B. Rzebik-Kowalska - Mammals of Algeria 1991.
G.L. Ranck - 1968. The rodents of Libya: Taxonomy, ecology, and zoogeographical relationships. 1968.
D.J. Osborn and I.Helmy - The contemporary land mammals of Egypt (including Sinai). 1980
T.Benazzou and F.Zyadi - Presence d'une variabilite biometrique chez Gerbillus campestris au Maroc (rongeurs, gerbillides). 1990. Which was a biometric study analysing the variations amongst Moroccan publications.
E.L.Cockrum and H.W.Setzer - Types and type localities of North African Rodents. 1976. Which clarified the author and date publication of campestris.
Other synonyms of Gerbillus campestris that have been regarded as subspecies by various authors include,
- brunnescens (G.L.Rank- 5km S.E. of Derna, Cyranaica Province, Libya - 1968)
- cinnamomeus (Morocco)
- dodsoni (NW. Libya)
- haymani (H.W.Setzer – Siwa Oasis Western Desert Governorate, Egypt – 1958)
- patrizzi (Cufra Oasis, Libya)
- wassifi (H.W.Setzer – near Salum (c.200ft), Western Desert Governorate, Egypt - 1958)
- jamesi (Harrison – between Bou Ficha and Enfidaville, Tunisia – 1967)
The names listed above are probably correctly associated with G. campestris, but as Ley suggests, the species itself requires refined definition through a careful systematic revision.
An easy to keep gerbil that does well in a 3ft tank, and like most Gerbillus species it needs either a sand area or a bowl with chinchilla sand as it gets greasy fur quite quickly. Branches or rocks for climbing are also very much appreciated, as is a wheel and a small nest box. In the wild their diet comprises of seeds, roots, the green parts of plants, various grasses, nuts and insects. Their captive diet consisted of a standard gerbil feed with smaller seeds added to the mix, with an occasional supplement of cat/dog treats or insects.
Wild populations breed throughout the year and this was similar in captivity. The gestation period is around 20-23 days, and average litter size in captivity was around 2-4 pups. The eyes open around 17-20 days and they are weaned at around 28 days.
By Ed Cope
Photos 1 - 5 courtesy Julian Barker, Julian took these photos of my Gerbillus campestris when they were entered for the first time at an NGS show.