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(gerbils), a subfamily of rodents of the family Cricetinae. The gerbil, which resembles a rat, reaches a length of 18 cm. It has a long, furry, tufted tail. The body is sandy-ocher or light brown above and white below. Most gerbils have cheek teeth either with roots or, less commonly, without roots. The cheek teeth grow continually.
Of the ten or 12 genera, two— Meriones and Rhombomys— inhabit the USSR. Most species live in the desert steppes and deserts of Africa and Asia (to the eastern Caucasus, northern Kazakhstan, Transbaikalia, and Mongolia). The animals live in colonies and are active year-round. A litter contains five or six young. The animals feed mainly on the aboveground parts of plants, particularly damaging plants that retard sand erosion. The gerbil Rhombomys opimus and the jird Meriones meridianus are members of the subfamily. Many species carry plague pathogens. Some zoologists distinguish the family Microtidae, in which they include Gerbillinae.