August 6, 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: The Gobi Jerboa

Image Credit: Google Images
Image Credit: Google Images
Image Credit: Google Images
Today we are going to travel to the Gobi desert. This vast territory of land occupies 30 per cent of Mongolia. The Gobi desert is home to some of the rarest animals  in the world. Its desert and semi-desert ecosystems have barely changed in years.  Most people believe the Gobi desert is an inhospitable place of unbearable heat and sand dunes that go on for miles, but the reality is quite the opposite. The Gobi desert is filled with high mountains, springs, forests, sands, steppes and it is home to over 400 species of plants,  a total of 52 mammals, 15 reptiles, 1 amphibian and 106 bird species.
Our focus today is on one of the 52 species of mammals that inhabits the desert, the Gobi Jerboa.
You definitely won’t find another creature like this in the world! It has an exceptionally long tail and hind legs for jumping and it boasts a set of gigantic ears that are a third larger than it's head, there is no denying that the Long-Eared Jerboa is quite a unique creature. So unique, in fact, that scientists have placed it as the only member in its genus Euchoreutes, and subfamily, Euchoreutinae.
The Jerboa family is a very interesting group of rodents which have adapted themselves to living in both hot and cold deserts. They are unusual looking creatures to say the least. The head and body are roughly similar in appearances to those of a mouse and range from 3 - 15cm in length depending on species. The tail is larger than the head and body, ranging from 6 - 23cm. It is used for balance when the jerboa is on the move and as a prop when the animal is sitting upright. Not all Jerboas have giant ears, in fact some species have small, mouse-like ears.  The most interesting thing about the Jerboa are its hind legs, which tend to be around four times as long as the fore limbs.
When you watch the Jerboa move it almost looks like a mini kangaroo. They hop instead of walk and each hop is 10 - 13cm but if they feel threatened they can cover up to 3m with each bound. This means that Jerboas can reach speeds of up to 25km/h when they are chased by predators. They move in a zig-zag pattern from side to side to help confuse their predators.
Sexually mature at 14 weeks old, they breed twice a year, and usually have 2 - 6 babies in each litter. Each baby is born naked and their hind legs do not develop until they are 8 weeks old which means they can't even jump until they are 11 weeks old.  They have a life expectancy of 6 years in the wild. Jerboas survive in the desert by burrowing. By living underground they can escape from the heat of the day in hot deserts and from the cold of the winter in cold deserts. Burrows are usually found near vegetation, but in the rainy season,  burrows up to 3 feet are dug in the sides of hills or mounds where they can escape from flood waters.  Asiatic Jerboas plug the entrances to their burrows with soil in winter to keep out the cold and African Jerboas do the same in the summer to prevent the heat from getting in.
Jerboas are swift diggers. They use their short forearms to scrape at the soil, then use their powerful hind legs to push the soil out behind them. The Jerboas diet consists of fresh green leaves, but as the plants dry up, these become more scarce, so the Jerboas dig up the roots in which the plants store water and eat these instead. Some species also feed on beetles and other small insects. 95% of the long-eared Jerboa's diet in Mongolia are insects, even those that fly as they can locate their prey's approach by using their sense of hearing.  The Jerboa's long strides allow it to travel long distances in search of food without getting tired. Jerboas do not actually drink water. They get their water from their food. Hot desert - dwelling Jerboas do most of their feeding at night when it is cooler. Cold desert - dwelling Jerboas hibernate over the winter and live off their body fats.
 It is unknown just  how many of these creatures remain in the wild.
The Zoological Society of London’s EDGE program is working to help conserve the remaining creatures. They’ve succeeded in taking the first ever footage of the Gobi Jerboa, which can be seen below:

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