Jerboas – Fascinating Desert Dwellers

There are a number of national parks and protected areas in Algeria designed to preserve the natural heritage of this vast North African country. Visitors to these parks and wide open spaces are generally on the lookout for the larger animals and birdlife to be found there. Smaller animals may be overlooked, but are no less important to the biodiversity of the country. Among these smaller creatures is the jerboa, a rodent found in arid desert regions throughout Northern Africa and Asia.

Looking much like a miniature kangaroo with long hind legs, long tail and short forearms, jerboas hop along at high speed over smooth sand and rugged terrain, with each hop covering a distance of 10 to 13 cm. If being pursued by a predator, jerboas can reach speeds of up to 25 km/hour with leaps covering up to 3m. They may also zig-zag from side-to-side in their efforts to escape their predators, which include foxes, snakes and owls. Their highly developed sense of hearing is also helpful in avoiding becoming another animal’s meal.

Its long tail, sometimes with a tuft of hair at the end, is used to balance the jerboa when hopping, but more importantly when it is stationary and sitting upright. Its sandy colored fur acts as camouflage in its desert environment. Some jerboa species have large bat-like ears, and depending on the species can range in length of 3 to 15 cm, with tails ranging from 6 to 23 cm.

Jerboas are solitary creatures that live underground, either on their own, or as part of a network of individual burrows. Living beneath the sand helps them to escape the extreme temperatures, and as nocturnal creatures they come out at night to feed. Their burrows are usually located near vegetation which is their food source, and in areas that experience seasonal flooding, they may burrow into hillsides or mounds. They don’t drink water, but rely on their food source to provide the little moisture they need. Desert dwelling species may have folds of skin covering their nostrils and hairs in their ears to keep out the ever-present sand. Desert animals are adapted to living in harsh conditions, with very little water and dealing with drastic changes in day and night temperatures. Able to withstand both heat and cold, jerboas are certainly well adapted to Algeria’s desert terrain.