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The great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus) is a large gerbil found throughout much of Central Asia.

Great gerbil
Temporal range: Late Pliocene–Recent
Rhombomys opimus 1.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Muridae
Genus: Rhombomys
Wagner, 1841
R. opimus
Binomial name
Rhombomys opimus
(Lichtenstein, 1823)


The largest of the gerbils, great gerbils have a head and body length of 15–20 cm (6–8 in). Their skulls are distinctive by having two grooves in each incisor. They have large front claws used for burrowing.[2]


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 habitatEdit

Great gerbils are found in arid habitats, predominantly in sandy or clay deserts. They are found in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.[1]

Ecology and behaviorEdit

Great gerbils live in family groups and occupy one burrow per family.[3] Their burrows can be fairly extensive with separate chambers for nests and food storage. Great gerbils spend considerably more time in the burrows during winter, but do not hibernate. They are predominantly diurnal. Food consists mostly of vegetable matter.[2]

The animals are often colonial. Longevity is 2–4 years. Burrow system complexes have a distinctive region of cleared soil and can be seen and mapped from aerial photos and satellite images.[4] Inhabited great gerbil burrows can be distinguished from abandoned burrows using satellite images .[5]

Great gerbils are known reservoirs of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium 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.


  1. ^ a b Shar, S.; Lkhagvasuren, D.; Molur, S. (2008). "Rhombomys opimus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  2. ^ a b Smith, Andrew T.; Xie, Yan; Hoffmann, Robert S.; Lunde, Darrin; MacKinnon, John; Wilson, Don E.; Wozencraft, W. Chris (2010). A Guide to the Mammals of China. Princeton University Press. p. 251. ISBN 1-4008-3411-2.
  3. ^ Randall, J.A. (2005). "Flexible social structure of a desert rodent, Rhombomys opimus: philopatry, kinship, and ecological constraints". Behavioral Ecology. 16 (6): 961–973. doi:10.1093/beheco/ari078.
  4. ^ Wilschut, L.I.; Addink, E.A.; Heesterbeek, J.A.P.; Dubyanskiy, V.M.; Davis, S.A; Laudisoit, A.; Begon, M.; Burdelov, L.A.; Atshabar, B.B; de Jong, S.M. (2013). "Mapping the distribution of the main host for plague in a complex landscape in Kazakhstan: An object-based approach using SPOT-5 XS, Landsat 7 ETM+, SRTM and multiple Random Forests". International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. 23: 81–94. doi:10.1016/j.jag.2012.11.007. PMC 4010295.
  5. ^ Wilschut, L.I; Heesterbeek, J.A.P.; Begon, M.; De Jong, S.M.; Ageyev, V.; Laudisoit, A.; Addink, E.A. (2018). "Detecting plague-host abundance from space: Using a spectral vegetation index to identify occupancy of great gerbil burrows". International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. 64: 249-255. doi:10.1016/j.jag.2017.09.013. PMC 5763245.
  • Nowak, R. M. (1999). Walker's Mammals of the World. 2. London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

External linksEdit