The jerboa is a very cute, but strange looking rodent. His hind legs are four times longer than his front legs. Let’s find out what else is interesting about him.
1. Animal fusion
When you see a jerboa jumping around in the desert in a zigzag pattern, you might think that you are looking at a cartoon – he looks like a mix and match of different animals. He has a cute mouse-like head and body, long back legs like a kangaroo, long whiskers similar to that of a cat, big, round eyes like an owl and long ears like a rabbit.
2. Jumping for survival
Watching him jump, he seems like the happiest little animal in the wild, but don’t underestimate his strength and ability to adapt in many ways to living in the desert. The jerboa’s back legs are four times longer than his front legs, and this gives him the ability to jump very high. He can jump as high as 3m when he is chased by predators and this helps him to outrun them. That is similar to a human being able to jump on top of a high building! This wonderful ability to jump also helps him to forage and to see food in his environment. When fleeing from predators, he likes to confuse everyone in the desert by jumping all over the place. This unsuspecting little creature will surprise you, since he can even hop faster than a person can run!
You will probably never be so lucky to see him, as the colour of the jerboa’s long, soft and silky fur usually matches the colour of the environment he lives in. His fur colours range from a sandy yellowish beige to a darker shade of these colours. For predators, it will be like finding a small piece of sand in a big desert. The small 5-15cm jerboa is an excellent hide-and-seek player.
4. Useful body parts
Because he looks so cute you may think of him as a cuddly teddy, but all his interesting body parts have a useful function. The long and tufted mouse-like tail of the jerboa is longer than the animal himself. Since his body is unusually shaped, he would be clumsy and fall over if he did not have a long tail to help him stand upright. A jerboa is not afraid of the dark, because he has long whiskers to help him navigate when looking for food at night. His nose and ears have a flap of skin inside to prevent desert sand from entering, and it also helps him to hear and smell excellently. His long ears also keep him cool in the hot desert when he flaps them around.
5. Cool burrows
The nocturnal jerboa sleeps in the day and walks around at night. When the day is too hot, he relaxes in his burrow. He likes to create two temporary burrows and two permanent ones. When he sees a predator at night, he dashes into the 10-20cm temporary burrow to hide, but during the hot day, the 20-50cm long permanent burrows are used as an air conditioner, since it is plugged by sand to keep it cool. The jerboa typically lives alone in these burrows, since he is such a solitary critter and like his own company.
6. Sleepy heads
The jerboa likes his sleep. Imagine never getting out of bed for a few months! Those species who live in colder deserts hibernate in winter, while those in the hotter deserts stay inside their burrows during summer – nobody can survive the heat of the day in the desert!
7. Geographical differences
You can find the jerboa in Eastern Europe, Asia, Arabia and North Africa in both hot and cold deserts, such as the Gobi Desert and the Sahara Desert. He easily adapts to the area he lives in – the jerboa in Asia has five toes on his back feet while the jerboa in Africa only has three toes. Even the shape and length of his ears differ in the different areas.
8. Food with no drinks
Different jerboas eat different things. Some are very picky and eat only plants and seeds, while others don’t care and eat almost everything, including insects. Due to the scarce water in the desert, the jerboa gets enough moisture from the food he eats, and he also finds moisture in the roots within his burrow, to give him an extra bit of water.
9. Baby jerboas
Since the jerboa likes summer the most, he also breeds in the summer. The cute baby jerboas are only ready to jump when they are 11 weeks old. They can live up to six years in the wild, depending on the species. Their average lifespan is two to three years. For us, this is only the age of a baby, but for jerboas, this is a long time.
10. Different species
According to Britannica, there are 33 different species of jerboa who all look different. The most well-known species is the Egyptian jerboa. The jerboa is a rodent and falls in the same animal order as mice, rats and squirrels, but in my eyes, they are the cutest wild animals there are.