Temporal range: Early Pleistocene – Recent
Meriones is a rodent genus that includes the gerbil most commonly kept as a pet, Meriones unguiculatus. The genus contains most animals referred to as jirds, but members of the genera Sekeetamys, Brachiones, and sometimes Pachyuromys are also known as jirds. The distribution of Meriones ranges from northern Africa to Mongolia. Meriones jirds tend to inhabit arid regions including clay desert, sandy desert, and steppe, but are also in slightly wetter regions, and are an agricultural pest.
The genus was named by Illiger in 1811, deriving from the Greek word μηρος (femur). However the name is shared with Greek warrior Meriones in Homer's Iliad which has brought confusion to the meaning of the scientific names, specially for the popular pet Mongolian gerbil.
Adult Meriones species range in size from 9 to 18 cm (head and body), with tails equal to or slightly longer than the rest of the animals. Weights vary widely by species, but is generally between 30 and 200 grams.
They construct burrows to aid in food storage, temperature regulation and water retention. The burrows of some species are rather simple, but others can be quite complex. Meriones crassus adults have been reported to have burrows with a combined length of over 30 meters and have 18 entrances. Food is stored in chambers of the burrows. As with other arid adapted rodents, stored food has the capacity to reabsorb moisture given off by the animal during respiration. Jirds can go their entire lives without drinking, relying instead on water generated during metabolism. These rodents feed on roots, seeds, fruits, and insects.
Members of the genus range from being social to rather solitary. Even in solitary species, home ranges often overlap. Females give birth to one to 12 young after a gestation period of about 20–30 days. Sexual maturity is reached after about 9–15 weeks. Longevity in the wild is usually less than six months, but the record for a captive animal is over five years.
Pavlinov et al. considered the genus to belong to the (sub)tribe Rhombomyina, a group of mostly Asian gerbils. Tong's hypothesized relationship is consistent, and the taxonomy of Pavlinov et al. was adopted by Musser and Carleton. McKenna and Bell (1997) use the subtribe name Merionina (presumably arguing it has priority) for the same group.
The 17 species of Meriones jirds are divided into four subgenera.
- Subgenus Meriones
- Tamarisk jird, Meriones tamariscinus
- Subgenus Parameriones
- Subgenus Pallasiomys
- Arabian jird, Meriones arimalius
- Cheng's jird, Meriones chengi
- Sundevall's jird, Meriones crassus
- Dahl's jird, Meriones dahli
- Moroccan jird, Meriones grandis
- Libyan jird, Meriones libycus
- Midday jird, Meriones meridianus
- Buxton's jird, Meriones sacramenti
- Shaw's jird, Meriones shawi
- Tristram's jird, Meriones tristrami
- Mongolian gerbil or Mongolian jird, Meriones unguiculatus
- Vinogradov's jird, Meriones vinogradovi
- Zarudny's jird, Meriones zarudnyi
- Subgenus Cheliones
- Indian desert jird, Meriones hurrianae
- Biodiversity Heritage Library Prodromus systematis mammalium et avium additis terminis zoographicis utriusque classis, eorumque versione germanica, Illiger 1811 (PDF)
- Google Books My Pet Hamster and Gerbils, LeeAnne Engfer 1997
- The Guardian Saturday 21 June 2003 In from the cold
- Corbet, Gordon Barclay; John Edwards Hill (1992). The mammals of the Indomalayan region: a systematic review. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854693-9. McKenna, Malcolm C.; Susan K.Bell (1997). Classification of Mammals above the Species Level. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-11012-X.
- Nowak, Ronald M. (1999). Walker's Mammals of the World, volume 2. London: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-5789-9.
- Pavlinov, I. Ya., Yu. A. Dubrovskiy, O. L. Rossolimo, E. G. Potapova. 1990. Gerbils of the world. Moscow: Nauka. Tong, Haiyan (1989). "Origine et évolution des Gerbillidae (Mammalia, Rodentia) en Afrique du Nord". Mémoires de la Société Géologique de France. Nouvelle Série. 155: 1–120. ISBN 2-85363-050-1.
- Musser, Guy G.; Michael D. Carleton (2005). "Superfamily Muroidea". In Don E. Wilson and DeeAnn M. Reeder (eds.). Mammal species of the world : a taxonomic and geographic reference (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 894–1531. ISBN 0-8018-8221-4.