The gerbil is a social rodent. Many behaviours can be easily observed even in captivity. This is one of the interesting things about gerbil when you own some at home. They can be very diverting. Some peoples told me that they were more interesting then their T.V.  or that their friends would come to their house to look at gerbils. 



Social Behaviours 



The gerbil will clean its fur or the other ones fur with his paws and teeth. This behaviour is used to reinforce social links between clan members.  


Sometimes, they will groom so hard that they will cut some fur part. This is not yet well explained why they do that but it seams to be a sign of domination. Don't worry about the missing fur it will grow back. To know more about that, visit the "Biology and Fur" section.


Both gerbils will stand on their back legs and will kick the other one with their front paws. Young gerbils will often perform this behaviour, maybe to practice for future territory defence. Adult also do it for playing or for rank establishment. 


As long that there is no squeak sound of fight, everything goes right. If they start a chase as in this video, it's better to separate both gerbils and try a split cage introduction. 


One of the gerbil will push the other one on his side. The pushed one can kick with his hind legs or just free himself and push the other. They can groom each other after that or they might just go back to their normal activities. If a chase begins, a fight can start.  




Sometimes, both behaviours can be observed at the same time and can be hard to distinguish. Here are some pictures showing boxing or wrestling.  





Aggressive Behaviours 


These behaviours are usually observed when 2 unknown gerbils meet. They will chase each other, bite, jump and make some sounds like squeak. If you are witness of these behaviours, be careful, they are quick and can bite. Wear gloves or use a towel to separate the fight. Often, they are not aggressive against you but they won't make the difference between the other gerbil and your fingers. And this hurt! I never been bite, but one of my friend did and she said it bleed a lot.    

Fight signs

Sometimes, fight can occur when you are not home and thing get quiet when you get back home. Sometimes, the gerbils will have mark of the fighting. These hints must be taken with a lot of serious because they can lead to more and more serious fight that can end in death.  


- Blood on the base of the tail: This clue show you who been pursued, the dominated one. The dominant one bit his tail many times. This is the first sign of a fight. From that time, look at your gerbils with more attention. If you think that they might continue while you're out, just put them in separated cages, or place a mesh grid between them in the tank. Sometimes it's just a little fight but it can also become more intense in a near future. Just be careful and look for other signs of fight.


- A gerbil who sleeps alone in his corner: Usually, all clan members will sleep at the same place in their habitat, piled up on each other. If you find one alone, isolated from the other or from the group, a fight might be near. Check out if the other ones are not chasing the lonely gerbil. If he goes back with the group after some days, everything should be ok. If not, check for other signs of fighting. BE CAREFULL, this doesn’t apply when the temperature is too hot or when a mom gerbil just had her babies.


- One gerbil squeak hidden in a corner: A gerbil will stay hidden in a tube or behind the house. It will make squeak sound each time the other gerbil pass by. This means that he is afraid and that if he comes out, he will be attacked or chased. But sometimes, he is afraid for no reason and the other one don't even want to fight! Wait a few hours or days but be sure that the frighten one can eat and drink. Often they will hide until they die from exhaustion. If you have a doubt, place a separator between the two. He will come out from his hiding-place when he'll see that the other one can't come near him.


When you'll see one, you'll know what it is. This is exactly as in the cartoon fight. Only a rolling ball of fur moving in the tank! When it happens, you must SEPARATE THE GERBILS RIGHT AWAY! Use gloves or something else to help separate both gerbils without getting hurt. If you tried to place a gerbil with a new one, you'll have to use the split cage technique. 


One will run behind the other one very fast. You'll have to see what happen next. If they begin to groom each other, it's a good thing. If a fight begins, you'll have to separate them. They may run, then stop, smell each other, run again, stop, stand side by side showing their side. It may also be a reproductive pursuit, see a breeding chasing. 

Confrontation behaviour...side showing 

When 2 gerbils meet, they will try to establish rank. Who will be dominant or dominated. When they meet, the dominated one will show his side to the other one and will ark his back to look bigger. He will place himself in front perpendicular to the other or just next to him. This behaviour can be used to impress the other and to avoid a fight. It's as if the gerbil would say: Look, I can be big too, a can fight too, if you continue like that, it's going to go wrong. 

Sliding, hard to explain

This behaviour can be observed when a fight occurs and that there is an obstacle, as a tube, between the two. The pursuited gerbil will hide in the tube and the attacking gerbil will kick the side of his body on the entrance of the tube. It's like a fight but with a tube.


Danger behaviour


If a gerbil is afraid or surprised, it can begin to thump on his feet. This is quite surprising when it happen for the first time! The gerbil will jump on both feet at a time and make noise. You only have to surprise them or make a strange noise as the Christmas bell!!! Hooo that is frightening! When a gerbil thump, all the other will run and hide. In my kennel, this is often produced when visitors come to see the gerbils. The gerbils smell a new sent and ear unusual voice. As they are not sure of what's going on, one from the whole kennel will begin thumping to alert all the others of a possible danger.  

Fast and noisy run 

Often, the thumping and the run will be observed at the same time with different gerbils. It's as if the gerbil will start to run doing to more noise it can. They will do that when they run to hide.

Tail in the air

The tail won't touch the ground and the gerbil watch carefully around to see any danger. The gerbil will stand high on its four legs, the eyes wide open, and ready to run if needed. The gerbil alerted by the thumping will stand this way. 





Watching on 2 legs 

The gerbil will stand on its hind legs and watch around the horizon. They insure itself that the way is safe. They also do that to tell us "Hello!" when we pass by. 

They must tell themselves: " What's going on... what,,, where... you come to see me?.. no.. no come back, I want a sunflower seed!!!"








Other Behaviors


Digging in the corner (Stereotyped behaviours)

Many things can cause this behaviour: Tank or cage too small, stress, behaviour learned from parents. Scientist made a research on the polar bear's behaviour kept in captivity. These bears walk from one side of their exhibit to the other all day long and repeat the same pattern everyday. The scientist installed sensors on the head of the bear to get data from their brain. They discovered that the impulses were almost the same as the one sent when the bear was relaxed. They came to the conclusion that this behaviour was a way to evade from the captivity restriction. In nature, the polar bear travel many miles a day. So his instinct tells him to walk, and by walking, he feels good. The gerbil digs tunnels most of the time. So dinging in the corner or the tank or the cage makes him feel good.


How to get this problem solved? If your gerbil does it already, it's too late. This behaviour is very hard to remove. Even if you buy a 1000 gallons tank, the gerbil will get to a corner and dig anyway. This behaviour is learned at a young age, if the parents do it, the young will do it too. But if the tank is big enough, they might do it less often. Don't worry about this behaviour it won't hurt them. This is a normal behaviour from a Captivity point of view. To help, give your gerbils more toys, tunnels, gnawing woodpieces, wheel, etc. 

Licking the aquarium glass

You can see this behaviour with babies who didn't learned yet how to drink from the water bottle. They will lick the glass, looking for a drop of water. We suppose that in nature, gerbils get their water from the cold and humid walls of their tunnels. If a adult do this, check the water bottle if it isn't stuck or empty!!




Funny jumping

I see that often in young gerbils between 1 and 2 months. They jump and turn at the same time and run away! As if they were crazy suddenly! And then, they jump on their sisters and brothers to play. This is so funny! But I think it's normal.





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