Dipodidaebirch mice, jerboas, and jumping mice

The family Dipodidae includes the birch mice, jumping mice, and jerboas, a total of around 51 species in 15 genera. The skull of dipodids is characterized by an enlarged infraorbital foramen that transmits part of the medial masseter muscle ( hystricomorphous) and a separate smaller foramen that transmits the infraorbital nerve and blood vessels. Unlike rodents that exhibit the myomorphous skull condition (the Muridae, for example), dipodids do not have a well-developed zygomatic plate. Even though they are hystricomorphous, dipodids have a sciurognathous lower jaw. The jugal has a branch that extends dorsally to contact the lacrimal. The angular process of the lower jaw is made up of thin bone that is often perforated. The dental formula of dipodids is 1/1, 0/0, 1-0/1-0, 3/3 = 18 or 16. The morphology of the cheekteeth varies considerably, but in all cases they are rooted.

Jumping mice (subfamily Zapodinae) are distributed throughout North America with one species ( Eozapus setchuanus) in China. Birchmice (subfamily Sicistinae) occur throughout Eurasia. Jerboas (subfamilies Dipodinae, Paradipodinae, Cardiocraniinae and Euchoreutinae) occur from northern Africa through central Asia.

Jumping mice are well equipped for jumping with long hind feet to propel them off the ground and a long tail that helps them maintain balance while airborne. Jumping mice move either by making a series of long bounds (they can cover up to 10 feet in a single hop), short hops, or by scurrying under vegetation. Jumping mice are nocturnal and hide during the day under logs or in clumps of vegetation.

Birchmice, in contrast to jumping mice, have shorter tails and hindfeet but they still move about primarily by jumping. They are also nocturnal, but unlike jumping mice, they dig shallow burrows and hide in underground nests during the day.

Jerboas are exclusively jumping animals ( saltatorial). They have hind limbs that are at least four times as long as their front legs, and the foot bones are often fused into a single long cannon bone, which gives the animal greater leverage for jumping. Jerboas that live in sandy areas have fur on the undersides of their feet, which gives the animal greater traction on the loose sand. The front limbs are not used for locomotion; instead, they are employed in the gathering of food and for burrowing. Jerboas are nocturnal and feed on insects, seeds, and succulent vegetation. In many ways they are remarkably similar to the kangaroo rats (Heteromyidae) of North America. Similarities include greatly inflated bullae; a very long tail, often tipped black and white; strongly saltatorial locomotion with enlarged and powerful hind feet; fused or nearly fused cervical vertebrae; soft, silky pelage, usually pale in color.

Fossil dipodids are known from the Oligocene. Despite the remarkable similarity of some dipodids and heteromyids, these two families are no believed to be especially closely related, and the affinities of the dipodids are not known.

References and literature cited:

Feldhamer, G. A., L. C. Drickamer, S. H. Vessey, and J. F. Merritt. 1999. Mammalogy. Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. WCB McGraw-Hill, Boston. xii+563pp.

Klingener, D. 1984. Gliroid and dipodoid rodents. Pp. 381-388 in Anderson, S. and J. K. Jones, Jr. (eds). Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. John Wiley and Sons, N.Y. xii+686 pp.

Mac Donald, D. (Ed.). 1987. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Facts on File Publs., New York.

Paradiso, J. L. 1975. Walker's Mammals of the World, Third Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Savage, R. J. G. and M. R. Long. 1986. Mammal Evolution, an Illustrated Guide. Facts of File Publications, New York. 259 pp.

Vaughan, T. A. 1986. Mammalogy. Third Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Fort Worth. vii+576 pp.

Vaughan, T. A., J. M. Ryan, N. J. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy. Fourth Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia. vii+565pp.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World, A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 2nd edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. xviii+1206 pp.


Sharon Jansa (author), University of Minnesota, Phil Myers (author), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate