Ger­bils and jer­boas de­signedto sur­vive in the sear­ing deserts

The Borneo Post - Good English - - Short Story Section -

MANY of the hun­dred-plus ger­bil and jer­boa species sur­vive in quite arid con­di­tions in the Sa­hara desert and other deserts in the world.

Jer­boas are eas­ily dis­tin­guish­able by their huge ears. In the desert, do­mes­ti­cated species would be un­able to sur­vive the food ir­reg­u­lar­ity and heat, but their wild an­ces­tors and coun­ter­parts have a num­ber of be­havioural and anatom­i­cal adap­ta­tions that en­able them to scrape by on the few re­sources avail­able to them.

Al­though a num­ber of colour vari­a­tions have arisen, wild ger­bils are pale brown. This form of coloura­tion gives them cam­ou­flage in their en­vi­ron­ment, mak­ing them less likely to be de­tected by preda­tors.

In or­der to min­imise the lev­els of fluid that they lose, over time ger­bils have evolved to only uri­nate rel­a­tively in­fre­quently com­pared to some other, non-desert dwelling ro­dents.

Ger­bils are ex­cel­lent bur­row­ers - they do it so much that even cap­tive ger­bils need to bur­row in or­der to fill this deep evo­lu­tion­ary need. Liv­ing in a bur­row en­ables ger­bils to es­cape the in­tense heat of the day. The sand in­su­lates their lit­tle nest, keep­ing it safe from the burn­ing heat and help­ing it pro­tect against the chill of a cloud­less desert night.

The North African ger­bil has long soft fur and a rel­a­tively long tail. The dor­sal fur is cin­na­mon to or­ange-brown. Each hair has a grey base, a sandy or golden-brown ter­mi­nal sec­tion and of­ten a black tip.

The North African ger­bil is found in Al­ge­ria, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mo­rocco, Niger, Su­dan, Tu­nisia, and pos­si­bly Chad and Mau­ri­ta­nia.Its habi­tat varies across its range, but in gen­eral it favours habi­tats with rocks and veg­e­ta­tion rather than sand.

The North African ger­bil lives in a bur­row that it digs and is a ter­res­trial and noc­tur­nal mam­mal. The tim­ing of breed­ing de­pends on lo­ca­tion, but in Egypt co­in­cides with the win­ter rains, and in North Su­dan fol­lows the short wet sea­son in Septem­ber to Novem­ber. The lit­ter size is about five. The diet of this ro­dent has not been stud­ied.

The North African ger­bil is a com­mon species that flour­ishes in a range of dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments and in some lo­ca­tions, such as in Mo­rocco, it is reck­oned to be an agri­cul­tural pest species. The In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture has rated the con­ser­va­tion sta­tus of this ro­dent as be­ing of “least con­cern”.

On the other hand, the diminu­tive jer­boa looks as though it were made from left-over spare parts of other an­i­mals, but it is nev­er­the­less su­perbly adapted to harsh en­vi­ron­ments such as those of the Gobi and Sa­hara deserts. It holds mem­ber­ship in the Dipo­d­i­nae, or “jump­ing ro­dents,” fam­ily, which in­cludes sev­eral dif­fer­ent gen­era. The jer­boa be­longs to one of three gen­era that in­clude more than two dozen species, more than 20 of them in Asia.

Typ­i­cally, the jer­boa has a mouse- or rat-like head and body, cat-like sen­sory whiskers, owl-like eyes, squir­rel-like to jackrab­bit-like ears, kan­ga­roo-like back legs, prairie dog-like forelegs and a dis­pro­por­tion­ally long, some­times tufted, dis­tinc­tive tail.

The skull of the jer­boa is shaped much like that of a mouse or rat; nose, strong, adapted for tun­nelling bur­rows for refuge; eyes, large, adapted for noc­tur­nal ac­tiv­ity; ears, pro­por­tion­ally large to very large, depend­ing on species, and pro­tected by bristly hairs; teeth, curved and grooved chisel-like in­cisors and strong mo­lars, adapted for eat­ing the tough plant ma­te­ri­als of arid lands; sen­sory whiskers, long and adapted for feel­ing im­me­di­ate sur­round­ings in the dark­ness of night or within bur­rows.

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