The sleek black gerbil sports a sultry and mysterious appearance compared to its beige and brown counterparts. However, apart from slight physiological and behavioral differences, black gerbils have the same gentle, friendly and playful temperament as other pet gerbils.
Black gerbils belong to the Mongolian gerbil species, Meriones unguiculatus, which means “little clawed warrior.” As a result of selective breeding for the pet industry, Mongolian gerbils sport a varied palette of coat colors, including black, brown, silver, lilac, dove, white and the common golden agouti color. This gerbil species was discovered first in its native Mongolia by European explorers in 1867. However, the gerbils weren't brought to the United States until 1954, when they were used for research purposes, after which they were introduced to the pet industry. The first black Mongolian gerbil was born in the United States in 1971.
These gerbils are distinguished by their glossy ebony coat, which contrasts with their yellow perineal hairs, and small patches of white underneath their chain and across their front feet.
This black pigment on this glossy gerbil’s coat is caused by a recessive gene, meaning that the gerbil inherits from its parents two identical copies (alleles) of the recessive gene that causes its coat to be black. If the alleles instead contained a dominant and a recessive gene, the former would determine the gerbil’s coat color and the recessive gene causing the black pigmentation would be masked.
Black male gerbils are more territorial than other gerbils, which causes them to scent mark more frequently, a behavior that scientists attribute to genetic factors. The gerbil’s scent gland is an oval-shaped hairless patch on the midriff; your pet gerbil will rub this against furniture in his cage, making it clear to other gerbils that his cage and all its contents belong to him exclusively. All gerbils scent mark regardless of their color or sex. The slightly increased tendency that scientists observed in black gerbils is unlikely to be noticeably significant it your pet gerbil is black. Male gerbils of all colors tend to scent mark more frequently if they have to share their living space with other males.
- Aquatic Community: Gerbils
- PubMed.gov: A Relationship Between Frequency Of Display Of Territorial Marking Behavior and Coat Color In Male Mongolian Gerbils
- Royal Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals: Gerbil Factfile
- PubMed.gov: Genetic Analysis Of The Black Pigment Mutation In The Mongolian Gerbil
- The Animal Files.com: Species Of Gerbil
- e-Gerbil: The Mongolian Gerbil Mutation Timeline
- Genetics Home Reference: Recessive
- Gerbil Info: Colour Genetics
- Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images