Tatera indicaIndian gerbil

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Geographic Range

The range of Tatera indica includes India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, as far west as Syria, and north to Afghanistan and Nepal. (Prater, 1980)

Habitat

Tatera indica individuals prefer sandy plains and grasslands that allow extensive burrowing. They will dig extensive burrows with chambers for resting, food storage, and sleeping. The depth of a burrow depends on the surrounding soil composition and season. These gerbils are generally not found in areas with very low rainfall or cold temperatures. They occupy almost any kind of habitat if there is enough suitable food and are found frequently near agricultural fields. These are perhaps the most common gerbil species throughout much of their range. (Goyal and Ghosh, 1993; Prater, 1980)

Physical Description

Tatera indica is one of the largest species in the murid subfamily Gerbillinae. Body mass ranges from 100 to 227 grams, and body length from 15 to 17 centimeters. Color ranges from reddish brown to fawn. Thick fur covers the body but the tail hair is sparse. A small tuft of black hair is found at the tip of the tail. The tail is approximately one half the body length of the animal and has a light brown band on each side. The soles of the feet are hairless and pigmented, as in other members of the genus Tatera, while the ears are also naked and elongated. (Prater, 1980; Prakash and Gosh, 1975; Vaughn, et al., 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    100 to 227 g
    3.52 to 8.00 oz
  • Range length
    150 to 170 mm
    5.91 to 6.69 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.422 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Males and females of this species live apart. The relationship between the sexes is currently not known. (Prater, 1980)

It is not yet known whether mating occurs above or below ground in burrows. Duration of the estrous cycle was found to be 4.5 days in the laboratory. The gestation period for T. indica ranges from 21 to 30 days, with litter size ranging from 1 to 10 young, with 5 to 6 being the most common number of young per litter. Young Indian gerbils are independent as early as 21 days of age and reach sexual maturity as early as 10 weeks of age. Females attain sexual maturity earlier than males. (Thomas and Oommen, 1999; Prater, 1980)

  • Breeding interval
    Indian gerbils can breed multiple times throughout the year, the interval is not well known.
  • Breeding season
    Indian gerbils breed throughout the year, with peaks in February, July, August, and November.
  • Range number of offspring
    4 to 10
  • Average number of offspring
    5.4
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    21 to 30 days
  • Range time to independence
    21 (low) days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    10 (low) weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    10 (low) weeks

Parental care in T. indica has not been described. However, as in all mammals, females nurse and care for their young until they reach independence. The young are born in a relatively helpless state in a nest chamber in a burrow. Their eyes open at 14 days old. (Nowak, 1991)

Lifespan/Longevity

A captive Tatera indica lived for 7 years. In the wild, however, most individuals don't survive their first year of life and adults probably live only a few years.

Behavior

Indian gerbils are nocturnal and do not move far from their burrows. These gerbils live in loose communities with each burrow occupied by a single gerbil, except when young are present. Home ranges of individuals overlap extensively. These gerbils do not venture far from their burrows. The burrow system is of a simple 'Y' shape with two surface openings. There is a seasonal shift in burrow depth from approximately 35cm in winter to 45 to 50cm in the summer to escape the higher summer temperatures. Tatera indica engage in social activities in which animals will wrestle, chase, and box with other gerbils. Populations of this species reach their peak in the monsoon season (March through September) and are at their lowest in January. (Goyal and Ghosh, 1993; Prater, 1980; Prakash and Gosh, 1975; Alderton, 1996; Vaughn, et al., 2000; Nowak, 1991)

Communication and Perception

Little research has been conducted on communication in Tatera indica. However, like most mammals, they communicate through auditory, chemical, visual, and tactile signals. As nocturnal rodents it is likely that they perceive their environment largely through auditory and chemical signals, as well as using their vibrissae to sense tactile stimuli.

Food Habits

The diet of Indian gerbils consists of grasses, leaves, roots, and grains. They also eats grubs, insects, and nestling ground birds. T. indica store grain in their burrows for consumption in the dry season and move on to roots and fruits of plants when the stores have been consumed. During the wet season insect availability increases and the proportion of insects and other arthropods in their diet rises to as high as 40%. This species has also been known to kill and eat smaller rodents and other mammals. Cannibalism on young is common in both captivity and the wild. (Prater, 1980)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Predation

These gerbils are primarily preyed on by birds of prey, especially owls. Jackals, snakes, lizards, cats, and foxes will also eat these gerbils. Their primary means of escaping predation are nocturnality, escaping to their burrows, and heightened senses that allow them to detect predators. They are also very fast and can leap meters into the air when surprised. (Prakash and Gosh, 1975)

Ecosystem Roles

The role of Tatera indica in the ecosystem is not well understood. However, it is clear that, through their abundance and food habits, they significantly impact populations of plants and arthropods throughout their range. They also serve as an important prey base for birds of prey and other small to medium-sized predators. Their burrowing activities aid in soil turnover and the re-distribution of soil nutrients.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

These gerbils consume large quantities of insects which are potential agricultural pests. Indian gerbils are also hunted for food in southern India. (Prakash and Gosh, 1975)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Tatera indica are crop pests, especially in areas where grain is stored. The animals will feed on seeds, sprouts, mature plants, ears of corn, and saplings in orchards.

The presence of this species in villages results in transfer of fleas from wild to domestic rodents, which may be partly responsible for the transmission of bubonic plague in and around India. (Kumar, et al., 1997; Prater, 1980)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Tatera indica is not listed by CITES or the IUCN, they are the most common species of gerbil in the Indian subcontinent and are abundant throughout their range.

Contributors

Stephanie Mott (author), Michigan State University, Barbara Lundrigan (editor), Michigan State University.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

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.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

endothermic

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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

fossorial

Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

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

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Alderton, D. 1996. Rodents of the World. New York: Blandford Publishers.

Goyal , S., P. Ghosh. 1993. Burrow Structure of 2 Gerbil Species of Thar Desert, India. Acta Theriologica, 38/4: 453-456.

Jones, M. 1982. Longevity of captive mammals. Zool. Garten, 52: 113-128.

Kumar, K., S. Jamil-Ur-Rahman, S. Sharma, K. Gill, R. Katyal. 1997. Entomological and rodent surveillance in plague-suspected area during September 1994 and thereafter. Japanese Journal of Medical Science and Biology, 50/3: 97-111.

Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Prakash, L., P. Gosh. 1975. Rodents in Desert Environments. The Netherlands: Dr. W. Junk b.v. Publishers.

Prater, S. 1980. The Book of Indian Mammals. India: Bombay Natural History Society.

Thomas, B., M. Oommen. 1999. Reproductive biology of the South Indian gerbil <<Tatera indica cuvieri>> under laboratory conditions. Mammalia, 63/3: 341-347.

Vaughn, T., J. Ryan , N. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy, Fourth Edition. Pennsylvania: Saunders College Publishing.