jerboa (jərbōˈə) [key], name for the small, jumping rodents of the family Dipodidae, found in arid parts of Asia, N Africa, and SE Europe. Jerboas have extremely long hind feet and short forelegs; they always walk upright or hop like kangaroos. A jerboa can hop faster than a person can run, and a single leap may carry it more than 6 ft (1.8 m). Jerboas have long silky fur, buff colored above and pale below; members of most species have a black face mask and tail tuft. They have large eyes and long ears. The combined head and body length is between 2 and 8 in. (5–20 cm), depending on the species; the tail is usually somewhat longer than the body. When the animal sits, the tail is used as a prop. Solitary, nocturnal animals, with a low tolerance for heat, jerboas spend the day in individual burrows with plugged entrances. In the northern parts of their range they hibernate; some jerboas of the true deserts aestivate. They feed on plant matter, especially seeds, and insects. They do not drink, but survive on water obtained from food or produced by their own metabolism. The similar appearing kangaroo rat and jumping mouse of North America are not of the same family as the jerboa. There are about 25 jerboa species, 22 of them in Asia. They are classified in 10 genera of the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Rodentia, family Dipodidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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