The elusive Jird

I kept seeing clusters of burrows below clumps of bushes in the desert. The Family asked me once, “Snakes?” I thought not, because it is usually a mammal which digs burrows. It turned out that many of these are dug by the Indian desert Jird (Meriones hurrianae), one of which you can see in the featured photo. This one was happily sunning itself until someone approached too close, and it darted into the nearby burrow. I didn’t get a look at its tail, which is supposed to be quite distinctive.

This was my only view of this creature. They are said to be common; IUCN classes it as being of “least concern”. Little is known about them; for example, there is no estimate of how many there are. M. hurrianae are omnivorous, but mainly eat plants. Only in the hottest season, when plants are scarce, do they eat significant amount of insects. They probably get water from the food they eat. They are not travelers; they can spend a lifetime within 10 meters of their burrows.

I’ve seen them also being called the Indian desert hamster. It seems that hamsters are more likely to stand on two legs than their close relatives, the Jirds. Calling this desert species a hamster is a little inaccurate.

Burrows are fascinating. What would they look like? It turns out that Jirds’ burrows have been mapped in detail. They can be highly branched, dipping as low as a meter below the surface, with a major gallery which could be 2 to 4 meters in length. Jirds are safety seekers; there are multiple bolt holes in these tunnels, and lots of side galleries with stores of food. The inside temperature stays around 30 Celsius most of the year, but falls to about 20 degrees in winter. If this is the extreme of cold which adults can bear, then it would make sense that few pups are born in winter. Studies suggest that this is true. Interestingly, Jirds occassionally dig short and shallow tunnels where they can hide temporarily if needed.

Their tendency to bolt into tunnels makes them hard to see. I waited for about 20 minutes, but there were too many people nearby, and the Jird didn’t reappear near this bush.