You heard about our dog last week. We also have six inside pets -gerbils. Until a couple months ago, we had eight of them. We did a lot of research on them before we agreed to take two from a longtime friend of my daughter. They were, of course, supposed to be both females… you know where this is headed. One of them had “agouti” coloring; that’s brown hair with black tips and a white undercoat – like a wild rabbit. The other was an albino -red eyes and all. He looked perfect for the name “Pinky”, so we called the brown one Rex after the main characters in James Howe’s Pinky and Rex children’s books: Pinky, the boy, Rex the girl. This worked since the way the white gerbil behaved as he chased after the brown one left little doubt that Pinky was a male.
After a month or so we had a litter of baby gerbils, so tiny, no fur yet, but you could see the color patterns, already, from their skin tones. One white, one brown and white, and two black and white. Except for the allwhite one, they all had a white line down their noses to divide their face coloring, a white spot on their head, and a white collar. This was a good time for us to learn more about genetic traits and how they show up. In a week or two, we noticed more white sprinkled on the back of one of the black ones so we named “him” Spot. His look-alike become Sport (I could picture him in an ivy league cap driving a car like Stuart Little), the white one became Spook, the brown one, Spice (the Spice Girls were still popular at the time.)
It was a great experience to watch father, Pinky, help care for the babies. He washed them and helped move them around the cage. Of course, reproduction in the rodent world is a speedy process, and before we knew it, another litter was being born. This time father, Pinky, was quickly removed from the scene and did not help rear the new “pups.” God was kind; there were only two in this second litter – Blackie, and much more solid black than our other black ones, and an-all brown agouti, Baby. (Spot had kept us from covering all the Spice Girls with the first litter.)
We didn’t get the babies sexed correctly at first. When they were a month or six weeks old, we found a short, wide mouthed glass jar to put them in, in turn, so we could hold them up for good view of their “privates.” A tedious, uncertain job it was. Our friend, Tim, quickly and cleverly dubbed this our “gerbil gender jar.” We didn’t get them right at first. I thought it was too “neat” that we should have four males and four females.
It wasn’t long till we found one of our “males” struggling with a labor that, after a long haul, sadly produced a stillborn pup that arrived feet first. Two other followed a time later, over the course of that morning. This happened again about a week later with another of the “males” having only one pup. Nature undoubtedly knew best – brothers and sisters breeding wasn’t good. Sport and Spot were moved in with the other girls (they really were the Spice Girls; we should have known), and we’ve been enjoying six females and two males ever since.
We have observed that the females all loved to spin in a running wheel. The males did not, so my daughters and I called them lazy. My husband said they just had enough sense to know they weren’t getting anywhere. At any rate, they did become considerably larger and fatter than the females.
The gerbils average life span is about 3 years. We got the first two when Jo was in fifth grade. Now she’s in eighth and almost to the month, Rex, the matriarch of our clan, died. We figured Pinky would be next and, yes, soon after Easter, I found him lying stiff in his cage. He and Rex are buried in our pet cemetery at Mom and Dad’s farm.
The six gerbil offspring are thriving at present, but I give them till sometime this summer. We’re about “gerbiled” out. It’s time for a new chapter in our pet experiences One daughter wants a house cat; one wants a house dog; I’m ready for rabbits.
Editor’s footnote: Thank you, Crowl family, who gave us Pinky and Rex, and who are “Farm and Dairy” readers!