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Temporal range: Late Pliocene–Recent
The largest of the gerbils, great gerbils have a head and body length of 15–20 cm (5.9–7.9 in). Their skulls are distinctive by having two grooves in each incisor. They have large front claws used for burrowing.
Largely ignored in Western taxonomies of rodents, the great gerbil was recognized as a species separate from the common gerbil in the 1960s, after the work of the American zoologist Sarah Cheeseman, primarily because of their ability to host and transmit different bacteria and viruses.
Distribution and habitat
Ecology and behavior
The great gerbil's burrows can be fairly extensive with separate chambers for nests and food storage. These animals spend considerably more time in the burrows during winter, but do not hibernate. They are predominantly diurnal. Food consists mostly of vegetable matter.
The animals are often colonial, with multiple individuals inhabiting a single burrow system. Longevity is 2–4 years. Burrow system complexes have a distinctive region of cleared soil and can be easily seen in aerial photos.
Great gerbils are known reservoirs of Yersinia, the parasite that causes plague, and of Leishmania major, the causative agent of zoonotic cutaneous leishmaniasis. They are also known as crop pests and have been implicated in exacerbating erosion.
- Nowak, R. M. (1999). Walker's Mammals of the World 2. London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Media related to Rhombomys opimus at Wikimedia Commons