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There are at least 33 different species of jerboa in the world today, most of which live in arid desert regions of Asia, southeastern Europe, and northern Africa. These odd looking, nocturnal rodents are members of the Dipodidae family. Among the most familiar types are the long-eared jerboa, the pygmy jerboa, and the lesser Egyptian jerboa. Many of these are threatened or endangered and are rarely spotted in the wild.
One of the most common is the long-eared jerboa. These little creatures can be found in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia as well as parts of China. The tiny body of this animal is just 2.8 inches (70 mm) in length, with a tail that is twice as long. It is light brown in color with extremely long ears and has very large hind feet which helps it to jump very high.
The long-eared jerboa is on the "red list" of the World Conservation Union’s endangered species. Habitat disturbance caused by mining and overgrazing are just two reasons for this species decline. Domestic cats are also a major threat to this species.
The pygmy jerboas are even tinier than their long eared cousin. These little guys are often just an inch (25 mm) long, making them easy prey for owls, foxes, and other animals. With their large eyes and big feet they resemble an adorable cartoon character. They have very soft brown rabbit-like fur and long tails, along with rounded mouse-like ears. Despite their small size, they are able to hop up to 9 feet (2.74 m) in a single jump.
The lesser Egyptian jerboas are slightly bigger than the long-eared species and may be the most common. They live not only in Egypt, but in Nigeria, Morocco, Sudan, Somalia and several other African and Middle Eastern countries. They are reddish brown in color, with bulging black eyes and long hairless tails. Although they live in some of the most harsh places on Earth, these desert rodents are quite abundant and are one of just a few jerboas that are not considered threatened in any way.
All species of jerboa are nocturnal. They feed on insects, grass, and seeds during the night and spend their days in underground burrows and tunnels. They are not noisy creatures, but communicate with each other through a series of squeaks.
Jerboas usually produce two litters of babies per year. Between one and six babies are born in a nesting burrow after a gestation period of 23 days. The babies stay with their mother until they are eight to 10 weeks old, when they begin to forage for food on their own.