The Staple Diet Of The Wild Mongolian Gerbil

Introduction

Wild Mongolian gerbils are omnivorous rodents, whose naturally curious nature rewards them with several different sources of foodstuffs in the harsh landscape where they live. By nature gerbils are constantly on the lookout for new and varied food sources, even if their food chambers in their burrows are adequately stocked. Technically gerbils are classed as a hoarding rodent, and around August gerbil communities begin gathering seeds and other foodstuffs to last them through the adverse weather periods that are common to the region. This food is then stored in food chambers within their burrows. It is this stored dried foodstuff found in their burrows food chambers that makes up the bulk of their staple diet, and sustains the families through the harder months of the year.

This opportunistic and inquisitive rodent with it's instinct to hoard food, enables them to thrive in the dry, and often very harsh biotope, where hardy grasses, shrubs and sub-shrubs dominate the region. Their Staple diet is varied and changes throughout the year; depending on what season it is and what location they live in. In summer their preference is for fresh green foodstuffs, seed as they set on the plants, and often in barren areas the diet will be supplemented with insects. During research with gerbil populations in various areas, it was found that the most important items of summer food were often the green parts of the hemp plant, Chenopodium species, buckwheat, Atriplex bushes, Atraphaxis Species and other similar plants. In winter, it is seeds and fruits that form the bulk of their diet.

The actual plant species they consume is quite varied and depends largely on what geographical region the gerbils are located in. In early expeditions it was reported that in agricultural areas (such as Tuva and Zabaikalie in Southern Russia) they mainly ate the seed and the green parts of whatever crops are grown locally. In the fallow fields of these regions, they consume mainly cereals and plants of the Chenopodiaceae, (e.g. Atriplex bushes, goosefoots, Suaeda) Asteraceae, (e.g. Artemesia) Leguminosae, (e.g. Caragana) and other similar plant families that thrive in the gerbils' territories. However, just to the south east of Zabaikalie its diet is very different. Here it was observed eating wild staple plants that dominate the region, but as the season changes so do the food sources, and they survive by eating wild cereals supplemented with stored food such as Artemisia, Suaeda and Eragrostis Pilosa plants.

When researchers excavated their burrows in various research areas, the food stores contained food items such as seeds of buckwheat, wheat, millet, oats, branches of Artemisia, and plants such as Setaria (bristlegrass), Chenopodium (Goosefoots) and Caragana (Siberian peashrub) It was also noticed during research that in the excavated burrows, oats were preferred to wheat as a food source. Also the individual food store chambers characteristically contained only one type of food. The gerbil starts gathering and storing food in the middle of August, and all family members take part in this activity. Apart from at times of reproduction, this is perhaps the gerbils' most active period. Gathering foodstuffs usually goes on as far as fair weather allows and can often continue up until winter. In winter the weather is often very cold and windy, and during these periods the gerbils will stay underground existing on their food stores. During this winter period you will only see them above ground on the warm, sunny days.

So as we can see from the researchers observations, the Wild Mongolian gerbil diet despite its harsh landscape, is quite varied, and is composed of both fresh and dried plant food, branches, tubers, bulbs, roots, seeds, and insects.

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