Pygmy gerbil (Gerbillus henleyi)

Pygmy gerbil
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Pygmy gerbil fact file

Pygmy gerbil description

GenusGerbillus (1)

The pygmy gerbil is, as its name implies, the smallest Gerbillus species (4) with a total length of just ten centimetres (2). Being a ‘naked-soled gerbil’, the pygmy gerbil does not possess the short hairs on the sole of its feet that many other species of gerbil have (2). It is a delicately built gerbil, with buffy-brown fur on the upperparts, and contrasting white patches above the eyes, behind the ears, and on the rump (5).

Gerbillus syrticus.
Head-body length: 7 cm (2)
Tail length: 2 - 3 cm (2)
8 - 12 g (3)

Pygmy gerbil biology

Like all gerbils, the pygmy gerbil is nocturnal, only venturing out of its simple burrow at night to forage for seeds and other food buried in the sand (6) (7). It is these seeds which limit the distribution of the pygmy gerbil, as it can only inhabit regions where the climate it suitable for seed production (8).

As is typical for many Gerbillus species, it is likely that the pygmy gerbil breeds seasonally, with the young being born blind and naked in a desert burrow, lined with the fur of the mother, after a gestation period of about three weeks (7). A week after birth, these naked gerbils begin to grow fur, and two weeks after this the young open their eyes for the first time (7).

Other members of the Gerbillus genus live a nomadic life, moving about from area to area within their range, and making only simple burrows in the cracks of the desert floor (7).It is likely that the pygmy gerbil also behaves in this way, given its presence in many desert areas only during wetter years (6).


Pygmy gerbil range

The pygmy gerbil is found in northern Africa, in the arid and semi-desert areas surrounding the Sahara Desert, as well as in the nearby countries of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman (1).


Pygmy gerbil habitat

Although a desert and semi-desert species, the pygmy gerbil prefers to inhabit the less sandy areas of the desert, except in wetter years when it can also be found in the very sandy parts (6).


Pygmy gerbil status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Pygmy gerbil threats

There are currently no known or predicted threats to the pygmy gerbil (1). Given the estimated large and stable population, the pygmy gerbil is not considered to be threatened with extinction (1).


Pygmy gerbil conservation

There are currently no direct conservation measures in place for this species (1). However, given the wide distribution of the pygmy gerbil, it can be found in many protected regions, such as the Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves in Niger (9).



Checked (24/08/10) by Dr Francis Gilbert, Associate Professor, University of Nottingham.

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Active at night.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Dobigny, G., Nomao, A. and Gautun, J.C. (2002) A cytotaxonomic survey of rodents from Niger: implications for systematics, biodiversity and biogeography. Mammalia, 66: 495-523.
  3. Khokhlova, I.S., Degen, A.A. and Kam, M. (1995) Body size, gender, seed husking and energy requirements in two species of desert gerbilline rodents, Meriones crassus and Gerbillus henleyi. Functional Ecology, 9: 720-724.
  4. Bauer, K. (1988) Noteworthy Mammal records from the Summan Plateau / NE SaudiArabia. Annals Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, 90: 43-50.
  5. Qumsiyeh, M.B. (1996) Mammals of the Holy Land. Texas Tech University Press, Texas.
  6. Krasnov, B.R., Shenbrot, G.I., Rios, L.E. and Lizurume, M.E. (2000) Does food-searching ability determine habitat selection? Foraging in sand of three species of gerbilline rodents. Ecography, 23: 122-129.
  7. Kingdom, J. (1984) East African Mammals. Volume IIB. Academic Press, London.
  8. Shenbrot, G., Krasnov, B. and Khoklova, I. (1994) On the biology of Gerbillus henleyi (Rodentia, Gerbillidae) in the Negev Highlands, Israel. Mammalia, 58: 581-589.
  9. UNESCO: Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves (April, 2010)

Image credit

Pygmy gerbil  
Pygmy gerbil

© Frank W. Lane /

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