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Any of almost 100 species (subfamily Gerbillinae) of burrowing mouselike rodents found in Africa and Asia, usually in dry, sandy areas but also in grasslands, cultivated fields, or forests. Gerbils have large eyes and ears and soft, brown or grayish fur. Most are 4–6 in. (10–15 cm) long, excluding the long, hairy tail. Many species have long hind legs used for leaping. Gerbils feed primarily on seeds, roots, and other plant material. One species (Meriones unguiculatus) is a popular pet. The great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus) sometimes damages crops and embankments in Russia, and members of one African genus (Tatera) are possible carriers of bubonic plague.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on gerbil, visit Britannica.com.