Due to modern selective breeding, the number of gerbil colors available has risen substantially.
Want to learn about gerbil colors? You’ve come to the right place!
The Mongolian gerbil is the most common gerbil that is kept as a pet in the U.S. It’s usually what breed of gerbil is meant when someone just uses the word “gerbil.”
In the wild, the Mongolian gerbil only comes in one coat color, Golden Agouti.
However, since they have been domesticated, gerbils have begun to exhibit many other coat colors.
In this article, we’ll discuss how the domestic gerbil has begun exhibiting other coat colors and explore the genetics behind it all.
Wild Gerbil Colors
Wild Mongolian gerbils only come in one color, called Golden Agouti.
Gerbils with this coloration appear dark brown or tan on top with a lighter, cream-colored underbelly and legs. This is the most common coat color and for a long time was the only coat color a gerbil could exhibit.
However, with selective breeding, the number of gerbil coat colors rose. To figure out how this happened, let’s look at the genetics that determine a gerbil’s coat color.
Gerbil Color Genetics
Gerbils only produce two different pigments in their fur: black and yellow.
The exact color of their coat is controlled by the intensity of each of these colors.
Both colors are inherited independently. In other words, they are both controlled by separate genes.
Gerbils also have quite a few genes that control how these two colors show up in their coat.
For example, they have a specific gene that determines whether or not their belly is lighter than the rest of their body, a gene that controls the overall level of color that is produced, and a gene that controls how the eye and face are colored.
All of these genes work together to determine the coat color, patterns, and markings of a specific gerbil.
The Development Of Other Gerbil Colors
If all gerbils have the same genes, including wild and domestic ones, why do domestic gerbils come in more colors?
It is because domestic gerbils have gone through a process of very selective breeding.
The wild gerbil coat color is an expression of all the dominant color genes. A different color only appears if a gerbil doesn’t inherit one of those dominant genes.
In the wild, this would be extremely rare. While it could happen, it would be the result of a number of lucky events.
In a domestic situation, though, humans can control which gerbils breed together. This can mean more recessive genes are passed on, which may eventually lead to more coat colors.
Number Of Gerbil Colors
There are approximately 40 different gerbil coat colors in the world today, but there are only a few that are very common.
These coat colors include argente golden, black, golden agouti, gray agouti, lilac, and slate.
There are a few rare gerbil colors that have just recently been discovered and investigated.
Albino gerbils are also somewhat common, and are getting more so with selective breeding. Researchers have discovered that an albino coloring appears to be connected to the pink-eyed dilution gene, which allows breeders able to select for this coloration.
The gray coat color is a very recent mutation. It is the result of a mutation in the gene that controls the yellow pigment.
Gerbil Colors and Behavior
The coat color of a gerbil has a minor effect on its behavior.
The most obvious example is the gerbil’s ability to control its body temperature.
Darker colored gerbils will obviously retain more heat, while lighter colored gerbils might have difficulty getting warm. This can result in slight behavioral differences.
Darker colored gerbils might self-groom more readily than light-colored gerbils in an attempt to stay warm.
They might also sandbathe more regularly.
However, these differences are usually very slight and are not very noticeable.
No color of gerbil makes a better pet than the others. Whatever affect coat color has on behavior is very subtle and does not determine their friendliness.
Gerbil Colors and Health
A gerbil’s coat color does affect their health, however, particularly where seizure activity is concerned.
Gerbils with the pink-eyed dilution gene have exhibited less severe and shorter seizures than other colors, while gerbils with the black gene show a shorter latency period to manifest seizures than others.
It was originally thought that coat color also affected a gerbil’s growth and size. Some breeders believed that certain coat colors were less likely to survive in the womb.
There is no difference in growth or survivability based on a gerbil’s color genes.
Other Gerbil Colors
The fat-tailed gerbil is also kept as a pet and, of course, has its own genes that control its coloring.
However, for the most part, these gerbils come in one sandy color.
There is a possibility that a gray color mutation has appeared in domestic fat-tailed gerbils in Egypt.
But, many researchers are not convinced that this is a true mutation and instead believe that it is a result of cross-breeding with another gerbil species.
Gerbil Colors – A Summary
There are a number of different gerbil colors available.
Which gerbil color your particular gerbil is will depend on its specific genetics.
But any color of gerbil is great, and they’re all cute in their own ways! What color is yours?
References and Further Reading
- Henley, Mina. “Non-agouti and pink-eyed dilution in the Mongolian gerbil.” Journal of Heredity. 1981. https://academic.oup.com/jhered/article-abstract/72/1/60/794986
- Leiper, B. D. and Robinson, R. (1986). Linkage of albino and pink-eyed dilution genes in the Mongolian gerbil and other rodents.” Journal of Heredity, 77(3).
- Leiper, B. D. and Robinson, R. (1985). Gray mutant in the Mongolian gerbil. Journal of Heredity, 76(6).
- Thiessen, D. (1988). Body Temperature and Grooming in the Mongolian Gerbil. Annals of the New York University of Sciences, 525(1).
- Pendergrass, M. and Thiessen, D. (1983). Sandbathing is thermoregulatory in the Mongolian gerbil, Meriones unguiculatus 1. Behavioral and Neural Biology, 37(1).
- Fujisawa, N. et al (2003). Newly established low seizure susceptible and seizure-prone inbred strains of Mongolian gerbil. Experimental Animals, 52(2).
- Grey-Allan, P. and Wong, R. (1990). Influence of coat color genes on seizure behavior in Mongolian gerbils. Behavioral Genetics, 20(4).
- Shimizu, M. et al (1990). Basic studies on the Mongolian gerbil as a susceptible host to filarial infection comparative studies on growth and reproduction among coat color mutants and genetic analysis of coat colors. Japanese Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 18(4).