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The word jerboa comes from the old Arabic name for a furry little rat of the desert. The mice and the ratty rodents are usually scamperers and scurriers and it comes as a surprise to learn that the jerboa hops around like a miniature kangaroo. There is a sizable family of true jerboas and a host of other hopping rodents that are sometimes called jerboas or gerbils.

The true jerboa and his close cousins are natives of Africa, Asia end eastern Europe. There they enjoy life in the hottest and driest of deserts. But even where the little fellows are plentiful, a jerboa is rarely seen. He spends the day dozing deep in his sandy burrow with his front door carefully hidden by a covering of loose dirt. After sundown, he comes prancing out to feed and frolic.

He rolls joyfully in the warm sand and uses his tiny hands to comb his soft, furry coat. His big, bright eyes are now used to the darkness and his huge, leafy ears have caught any sound of danger in the night, Now he is ready to show why he is called jerboa, the jumping rodent.

For a moment he stands ready on his long, strong back legs with his sturdy tail stretched out behind him. Then up he goes, hopping about in two to six foot leaps. He is but a few inches long and his tail is longer than his entire body. It ends with a brushy tuft and, besides helping him to balance when he squats on the ground, it helps him balance through his leaps. His arms are so small that he could not walk on all fours, even if he wished.

Food in the desert is scarce and the jerboa makes a living from seeds and dry grasses with perhaps an insect once in a while. He uses his tiny hands to gather his food and stuff it into his mouth.

Water in the desert is Even scarcer than food and the jerboa may live his while life without a drink. Somehow he manages to get enough moisture from his food.

The true jerboas share their Old World deserts with another family of j ping rodents. They are the gerbils, a name which also means jerboa, an they are very like the true jerboas. However, the gerbils do their foraging in the daytime and love to bask in the desert sun.

Australia and the Americas also have jumping rodents and these too are sometimes called jerboas. The jerboa mice and rats of Australia behave somewhat like their marsupial neighbors. Our kangaroo rats and mice enjoy night life in the southwestern deserts and, like the true jerboa, they never drink water.

Our kangaroo rat is about five inches long, plus a seven inch tail. This galloping ghost hops along in six to eight foot leaps. Our little kangaroo mouse weighs less than an ounce and he can spring along in 12 foot leaps which, for his size, makes him the world's champion jumper.

 

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