A pair of healthy gerbils living together can be expected to produce a litter of young in due course. Sexual maturity occurs about 9 to 12 weeks of age and pregnancy lasts about 25 days. Therefore, the first litter could be arriving about the 15th week. However, do not worry if a litter does not arrive by this time. Some females do not begin breeding until later in life. The female becomes pregnant again while suckling and in this event, the period may be as long as 30 days.
No special treatment need be given to the gerbils prior to the arrival of the litter. It is not always easy to tell if the female is due to have young. If you are a careful observer, it is sometimes possible to see that she is more swollen than usual in the tummy region. More often, the first indications are the sounds of squeaks from the new-born babies. At this stage, it is advisable to leave the gerbils alone, certainly for the first week and for a fortnight if you can contain your impatience to see the new arrivals. Make sure that the mother has plenty of food (she may eat twice as much food as previously) and that the water bottle is always filled.
The average litter is about five or six young but the female may have as many as ten. At birth, the babies are naked, blind and pink. Presently, the skin darkens and the first growth of hair becomes visible. By ten days, the young begin to look like tubby gerbils and are making tentative excursions from the nest; much to the consternation of the mother who tries to hustle them back, often picking them up bodily. In a few more days, the eyes open and, by three weeks, the young gerbils are able to fend for themselves. They are quite active and will be eating solid food. Though they may look small, this is the right age to wean. For the first few days of weaning they can be given a little milk or a paste of porridge oats but this is not necessary. A point to note is that the spout of the water bottle is low enough for the young gerbils to reach.
Varieties and Exhibiting
The only variety commonly available at present is the brownish-grey wild form. Wild in colour, of course, not in temperament. However, it is merely a question of time before coloured gerbils will appear. An albinotic variety, with pink eyes and white fur (but some pigment on the tail) and a white spotted variety are known. Cream or beige coloured animals have been described in the U.S.A., but further information is desirable before these can be accepted as fully established.
The gerbil has “arrived”, for the first show of any size was held in 1971, attracting a large number of exhibits and attention. Shows are ideal for creating interest and especially for encouraging the breeding of new colours. Anyone who desires to show gerbils should visit a show and observe how it is done. A standard show cage will be required. These can sometimes be bought ready-made or can be made at home to specifications laid down by the Mongolian Gerbil Society.