Editor: Janet Morrow
___________________AMERICAN GERBIL SOCIETY______________________
Welcome to the first issue of the AGS Newsletter. It has been an exciting year for the AGS. We are now officially the “American Gerbil Society Inc.” This gives us both national and international recognition.
Our membership has grown to 150 permanent active members, and 36 temporary members. With a good housecleaning inactive and disinterested members were removed from the AGS Registry. I would like to welcome our most recent members: Andrew, Laura, Sari, Laura S., Kristy, Kelly, Samantha, Lorraine, Brenda, and Stephanie.
The AGS Show Standards are now complete, and the Board is reviewing them. They will be made available to the general membership by December 1, 2001. With the completion of the AGS Show Standards, including points and penalties, we will be prepared to start AGS Sanctioned Shows in 2002. We will be in need of Regional Coordinators to help plan and organize local shows.
I would like to thank everyone that has contributed articles for this issue. Keep them coming. If you have a child that has created a gerbil story, poem, and drawing send it in. A children’s section would be great!
If you are not currently on the AGS e-group, and would like to join send me an email. If you do not want to receive the daily emails you can receive only special/important announcements from the AGS Board. This is the only way you will stay informed of AGS shows, activities, and votes. I hope you each get as much enjoyment out of reading the stories and articles as I have. They are great.
The Basic Standard, by which all show gerbils are judged, is based upon the allocation of the points for various features.
Body – 20; Fur – 20; Temperament – 20; Tail & Tuft – 5; Eyes – 5; Ears – 5
General Appearance & Temperament
Tail & Tuft:
Show Penalties and Disqualifications
Penalty points are to be deducted as follows:
Basic Categories (currently under consideration)
__________________GERBIL HEALTH & EDUCATION____________________
by Jackie Roswell and Julian Barker “National Gerbils Society”
Another important thing is that gerbils rarely hurt pups, but there is an important exception. Adult females will often damage or destroy pups unless they are themselves about to give birth, or are nursing. For this reason it is not advisable to breed with any group of gerbils with more than one adult female. Males on the other hand are invariably very protective towards small gerbils of any age and can be relied upon to help keep gerbil pups warm and clean, whether they are the father or not. It is often said that male gerbils need to be separated from the pups to stop them hurting them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Lastly, during gestation, and when nursing, make sure the female has unlimited water. Mothers drink a lot more than normal and restricting water supply can affect the size, numbers and health of her offspring.
Development The first you will probably know of your new litter is when you hear squeaking coming from a deep nest the mother has built. Gerbil pups can be very noisy! Especially in the first few days. A litter of gerbils will normally number between three and six pups, although larger numbers up to nine or exceptionally ten are not uncommon, as are litters of one or two. Litters of larger then seven can be a strain on the mother, and if you have another litter of a similar age it may be advisable to even up the numbers by fostering some pups from the larger litter with the smaller. Alternatively, you can offer some of the pups small pieces of bread soaked in condensed mild which they can suck on. This is safer than supplemental feeding by syringe or dropper as these can lead to flooding the lungs.
When born, the pups will be small, about the length of the last joint on your smallest finger. They will be blind, hairless and their ears will be closed. Over the first week they slowly get a coat. By about ten days they are fully furred. By about two weeks of age they become very mobile, walking around very fast, despite their eyes still being closed! At about two and a half weeks they will be putting things in their mouths and chewing on them. They will pick literally anything small enough up and test it with their teeth, they also start making burrowing movements. A day or two later their eyes will open, often one at a time, a day apart! Finally, at three and a half weeks their ears will unfold and they at last look like small gerbils!
Pups can be safely handled at any age. Mothers are not usually too bothered by humans doing this, but look out for any anxious behaviour by mum or dad. If they do not appear to approve of what you are doing, remove them to somewhere else and give them something to explore or play with. Whilst they are busy you can handle the pups. The only other thing you need to be wary of is that even very young pups can be very active. They will slip out of your hands and be off very quickly. So always make sure they are held only a few inches above a soft surface in case you drop one.
Another serious ailment is diarrhoea. This is usually a sign of something serious, normally an infection by Tyzzer’s disease or E. coli. Both diseases are often fatal but rehydration and antibiotics may save the gerbil. Also, if such a disease appears it is important to seek help from a vet as all your other gerbils may be at risk from these serious illnesses.
The only other health problem that normally affects young gerbils is where one of the pups seems to fail to thrive. It will be smaller than the others and may appear to not develop fur properly, possibly with a bald patch on the back. This is usually a sign that the pup is not getting enough milk. There are two possible solutions. One is to take [The other pups away for half an hour. Put them somewhere warm, this will allow the pup a chance to catch up on its feed. A more successful approach is to supplement its feed with bead soaked in evaporated milk. The pup will suck on this and get the nutrition it is missing. You should find that despite its slow start, once a pup like this gets going it will soon catch up with its litter mates.
Of course milk problems can affect whole litters. There are two main ways this manifests itself. Firstly, some small litters, mainly ones of one or two pups, do not seem to stimulate the mother to produce enough milk. This is most common with younger mothers. These litters can also be brought up with evaporated milk, or can be fostered with other mothers. The other problem is where an elderly mother, say over two years old, seems incapable of producing much milk. The solution is the same, but obviously breeding from such a female should not be encouraged.
Lastly avoid wheels that have open rungs, baby gerbils and indeed adults can trap a leg or tail and be quite seriously injured. It is not necessary to provide gerbils with a wheel, they usually get plenty of exercise by burrowing. However if you do want to provide them with a wheel, buy one that is fully enclosed so that there is no possibility of trapping tails or feet.
At four weeks of age, gerbils are usually fully weaned, but experience shows that they benefit from a further week of parental care. The pups can be removed any time after five weeks, and should definitely be separated from the parents, and members of their own sex, by eight weeks if unwanted pregnancies are to be avoided. If the mother has another litter, the older babies will help to care for their new, younger brothers and sisters just as the father will.
by Deb Rebel “Rebel’s Rodent Ranch”
To check for mites take a few sheets of unscented white toilet tissue and swaddle your gerbil in it leaving their head out. Wait for a minute or two then open the wrapping and inspect it closely and carefully for either dust specks or tiny red blobs.
If you do discover that your gerbils do have mites you will need to check a pet store or your vets office for hamster & gerbil mite and flea spray; Pyrenthin spray at 0.66% concentration.
Your gerbils will need to go into temporary holding container. First thoroughly clean the tank/cage with bleach and soap, and anything that is going back into the tank. Next, spray the tank inside and out and everything going into it. (Spray the outside of the water bottle.) When you put in the fresh bedding give it a good squirt.
Spray down the old bedding and put it in a garbage bag. Seal it and spray the outside of the bag well. Put it in a garbage can with a secure lid.
Spray the gerbil, and make sure you wet them from their ears to their tail. Now spray your hands, getting them wet, and carefully work the medicated spray into the fur of their heads. Gently massage your gerbil working the spray all the way down to the skin.
Spray the outside of the tank well, and don’t skimp. You will need to cover the entire area around the gerbil’s tank selves, table, furniture, and floor. If you have let the gerbil play on the furniture spray this well too. Mites will also travel on your cloths. Spray your chair and the path to and from the tank.
Dump your clothes into the washer, including your underwear. Wash your clothes with a good laundry detergent. Immediately take a shower. Use Head and Shoulders shampoo; it kills mites. Wash your body from your hair down to your toes with the shampoo.
Mite bites itch a LOT. A topical cream with benadryl and cortisone will help the itch. Benadryl is a brand name for an antihistamine/histamine blocker...and the cortisone helps drop the itch.
You will need to be diligent for a week. Repeat the tissue test daily, and spray every time you find more crawlies. You may need to follow all of the steps listed above several time, before you can successfully get rid of the infestation.
by Tana Lyman “The Little Rascal’s”
I am caretaker of the “The Little Rascals ”clan. I have cared for gerbils for many years, and bred them for a few. The purpose of this article is to explain the process that I use to teach “gerbil manners”; simple rules like “don’t chew on your human”. It does NOT refer to training a gerbil to do tricks. My purpose in training has always been to help the gerbils become good, friendly pets, not to teach them tricks.
This article is not the solution to every training problem you will ever have. A great deal depends on the gerbil: his or her personality, experiences, etc. No method of training a gerbil (or any other animal) is ever completely foolproof. The methods I am describing have worked quite well for me when raising my gerbils from pups – They may not be as effective on adult gerbils. It would take a longer period of time, and some personal adaptations.
That said, the training is simple: incorrect behavior is followed by something unpleasant to them, such as a puff of air in the face. Likewise, correct behavior results in something pleasant. Basically, there are three “rules ”I want them to learn: Don’t be afraid of humans, don’t chew on human clothing or skin, and don’t try to get away from the human when allowed out of the tank. The floor, for example, is absolutely forbidden.
The first “rule ”they actually learn mostly from their parents; namely, that humans are not to be feared. They observe their parents interacting with humans and begin to interact in a similar manner. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a 3-4 week old pup try to follow “mom ”or “dad ”up my arm! They learn a great deal from imitating their parents. At this stage I simply provide them with plenty of opportunity to interact with me, and try to get them accustomed to my voice by constantly talking to them in a soothing tone.
Training for the second rule (humans are not chew toys) begins as soon as they have enough teeth for nibbling on fingers to be painful. At that point, chewing on human skin (or clothing) brings a puff of air in the face (which they HATE!) and a firm “NO!” It can be fascinating to watch their learning process. Some, upon getting the puff of air, will immediately stop and leave (for the time being). Others will try again. Sometimes you can practically see the wheels turning in their tiny heads as they try the second or third time, then decide that yes, chewing really DID bring that nasty puff of air, and go on to other pursuits. They are quite intelligent and most don’t need this training for very long. A few will be more stubborn.
The third rule (floor etc. is off-limits) is more advanced training and doesn’t occur until the pups are old enough to be allowed on my shoulder (usually 5 weeks or so). I generally let them stay as long as they want, provided they are behaving. They are required to stay physically on me, and are not allowed on the floor (I sit on the floor to interact with them). I don’t even allow them on my lap – too close to the floor and therefore too much temptation. They stay on my shoulders, arms, hands, and occasionally climb to my head! If they try to get to the floor, they get a firm “NO! ”(which hopefully they have now associated with the unpleasant puff of air in the face) and put back into their tank. They don’t get out anymore that evening – rather like “grounding ”a teenager! This is a difficult stage of the training, and for some it takes quite awhile to get the idea (or perhaps to accept the idea). Others will pick it up almost right away.
After all this training, some will even begin to respond to the tone of my voice alone and alter their behavior accordingly. They definitely know the difference between my usual “everything’s-all-right” tone of voice and my “oh-boy-you’re-in-trouble-now ”tone. Sometimes I can feel little gerbil feet sneaking down my back to the floor, give a firm “NO!”, and feel them turning around and scurrying back up. Sometimes it takes a few repetitions before they decide to behave. And once in awhile their adventuresome natures get the best of them and they simply MUST attempt the floor, forbidden or no. Gerbils are natural-born explorers and their sense of curiosity does get the best of them sometimes, no matter how well they are trained.
Some will wonder why I don’t use treats to reward good behavior. Frankly, for my gerbils, food isn’t all that much of a motivator. Most of them would much rather play than eat, especially at a young age! So their reward for good behavior is to play as long as they like. This may not be true for everyone, but I have found it quite effective with mine. One thing I always do is put their food in their tank as soon as they run up to my shoulder. They know their food is always there when they come down after their first trip up, no matter what. The idea here is to avoid them associating food with bad behavior. Usually they don’t misbehave until at least the second trip up my arm, so I manage to avoid giving them food right after misbehaving. It is interesting that when I do have to put them back in their tank for misbehavior, they generally go straight to their food and start sampling it. They don’t even attempt to come out and play anymore – they know they won’t be allowed, so they don’t bother! As they age, food does seem to become more important to them. At that point, it might be a more effective training aid – but by then they usually have learned their “manners ”anyway, so it isn’t needed.
I hope that you will find this article useful in training your little ones. Keep in mind you must be patient, persistent, and consistent! Spend lots of time with your gerbils, and hopefully their learning of these “manners ”will make the time even more enjoyable for both of you.
_________________GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER___________________
by Janet Morrow “Mountain Ash’s Gerbils”
Living in Northern Maine has it benefits; we never lock our doors, in the winter we leave the car running when we go to the store, and most people know you by name. There is only one major draw back; a very small gerbil market!
Up here, in Hicksville, I print off a ton of posters, and plaster the town with them. Then I start on neighboring communities. No town within an hours drive is safe! With all this driving and advertising I can usually find homes for my one breeding pair’s pups.
How did I catch “Gerbil Fever? ” Back in 1986 when my daughter, Sharon, asked for gerbils for Christmas; I had no idea that fifteen years later I would be so involved in the gerbil community. The first pair we purchased were two nice little boys. You have all heard of them… The kind you have to rename later; ours soon became Ricky and Lucy. They were excellent parents, and I was impressed at how loving and devoted they were. They had pups every forty to forty-five days for the next two years, and “mom ”was hooked on the little critters.
Two years ago, I discovered the American Gerbil Society. I still remember mentioning my involvement with the American Gerbil Society at my daughter’s sixth grade parent teacher conference. The teacher nearly fell of her chair, she was laughing so hard. What a ridiculous idea - a national society for gerbil owners.
My first two ‘exotic’ gerbils, not black or Agouti, were Jo-Jo, a Lilac, and Hanna, an Argente Cream. With no breeders in the area my husband, daughter, and I traveled down state in search of gerbils. We had seen an ad in the Buy, Swap, and Sell Guide for gerbils, and it was only a four hours drive.
When we arrived at tiny trailer we were not allowed in. The rodents we were told were kept in the back bedroom. He brought out several ten-gallon tanks ’packed’ with gerbils. There were between ten and fifteen gerbils in each tank. They literally had no room to turn. Their fur was greasy, and there were bald spots on the tail. Not knowing what to do we picked two gerbils from the over stocked ’pup’ tank and left.
When we got home I called the State of Maine Animal Warden’s office. After telling them about the appalling conditions these animals were living in; they said they would go out and have a look.
Two days later they called to let me know that the man was not breaking any laws. He had over 400 rodents -- gerbils, rats, mice, and hamsters -- in one small room of the trailer. The tanks were stacked floor to ceiling on top of each other. The conditions were ’over crowded,’ but he did provide food and water. The warden’s office explained that there is no law in Maine that regulates the living conditions of rodents, except that they have to have food and water. He could stuff as many gerbils into one tank as he wanted to, and it was not considered abuse.
This angered me, and started my serious work with the American Gerbil Society. As the current President I want to move the AGS into a position of respect and authority in the animal rights community. Rodents deserve the same rights and protection that are afforded to cats, dogs, and other pet animals. I believe that if we truly care enough about gerbils/rodents to consider purchasing one, then we should care about the laws that govern their humane care and treatment.
Well, off my soapbox and back to my gerbils. Jo-Jo and Hanna, my rescue gerbils, turned out to be incredibly sweet, in spite, of or perhaps because of, having been saved from a horrid existence. They had wonderful healthy litters of Golden Argentes, Argente Creams, Lilacs, and Doves. We still have three of their pups in our large tank; sisters Dawn, Twilight, and Dusk. Two are the gerbils on the AGS logo.
We currently have one breeding pair. Polar Bear, our male is a REW with a great set of genes! (aa chcb Ee Gg pp spsp) His companion Honey Bear is a Silver Nutmeg. (aa Ccb ee gg PP Spsp) Together they create wonderful pups. They devotedly tend their pups, and allow me to inspect and pat the pups from day one. Living in Northern Maine, with a limited market, I enjoy breeding variety.
Two tanks are kept on my desk on either side of my computer. This provides me with a diversion from my work. My gerbils and I love to play. Our favorite game is king of the mountain. I’m the mountain. From the time the pups can climb out of their nest box they follow mom and dad up my arm. I love the look on the pups face the first time they climb all the way to the top, and come eye to eye with “me.”
Honey gave birth to her third litter as I wrote this. When I peeked in the nesting box I saw six tiny pink pups. The miracle of life! So, here I sit at my computer surrounded by gerbils eight to my left and four to my right, and loving every moment of it.
_____________________FUN & INSPIRATIONAL_________________________
by Don Naseth “The Pandora Clan”
If she could talk to tell us what truly happened and why she seemed to actually “seek us out” she is truly...... “The Gerbil of The Wilderness”
It was a Saturday in August last summer, when my wife, Shelley, asked me to come outside, there was a “mouse?” that was giving our three cats a real “run for their money.” They just couldn’t catch it. She told me that it was a very unusual color.
We live on a five acre lot in Clearview, 30 miles N. of Seattle Washington in the country, 300 yards, of rough terrain, from the closest house. We have wildlife a-plenty, hawks, owls, coyotes and other would-be predators to a small animal. Field mice are favorites for all.
The cats had perfected teamwork to catch and kill, and they were very good at it; but this critter was smarter and quicker than they’d ever encountered. We were intrigued by it’s “smarts” too, and tried to catch it by setting some bread pieces under the truck. She did stop to eat it. Standing up eating she seemingly fully aware of what we were trying to do. Every effort we made to “trap her” she just ran around the tires of my truck using them as a barrier between the cats, me and her.
After fifteen minutes trying we all gave up. Then Shelley thought to put a wire cage with some wood chips and food in it under the car. Ten minutes later she went back to check it and sure enough, when she pick up the cage the critter jumped out of it. Shelley ran back in the house saying it had been in the cage, but since she hadn’t closed the door before picking up the cage it had escaped. Another ten minutes and she checked the cage again. This time she quietly closed the door before picking it up. YES!!! The little creature was in there.
At first we didn’t know what she’d caught, because we’d never seen a gerbil up close before. We took it to Petsmart hoping they could tell us what we had caught. The girl reached right in and took it out, “It’s a cute little Siamese gerbil.” It never bit her and just sat calmly in her hand to our amazement, and the rest is, the beginning of great relationship with our most beloved gerbil, “Gerbie”. Rightly so, she is “The Great Gerbil of The Wilderness”
We did ask all the neighbors if they lost one, but nobody had. We still wonder how long she was out there and how she survived? But it doesn’t matter now, she is beautiful, happy, healthy and the most pleasant, cuddly gerbil we’ve seen.
by Julian Barker “National Gerbils Society”
The interrogation room was very dark, lit only by the light of a single unshaded bulb. There was no decoration, the only furniture being a table and two chairs. The suspect sat nervously at a table opposite Bond, the only items visible were a tape recorder, and the pad on which Bond would write his notes.
The suspect shuffled nervously. He had no idea of the significance of the unusual ventilation grill immediately behind his chair. The room was certainly not air conditioned, but was not particularly warm; even so, he began to sweat. Bond began to ask questions. He asked about the suspect's friends and associates. He asked about his movements. Eventually questions turned more pointed and were directed at finding out about the international terrorist threat that the suspect was implicated in. For once Bond hoped that Mr. Big's hideout would be a 13th floor council flat in Peckham. After 40 years he was getting fed up with jetting off to an exotic Far Eastern location at the slightest hint of another lunatic with plans to take over the world. Working nearer home, with the opportunity to spend Sunday afternoons in the garden sipping a Martini (shaken and not stirred) was what a man of his age deserved!
Bond was worried about how this interrogation would go. He knew that Q was watching everything through a concealed video camera. Q would want to see how this first field test would work out. Bond had tested out many of Q’s strange but ingenious ideas over the years, but using a gerbil to sniff out signs of fear in the suspect had to be the strangest yet!
Strange but true! - The British Government has just released papers showing that during the Cold War they experimented with using gerbils as an aid in interrogations. Back in September 1999 we carried the story of how Canadian prison authorities had tried using gerbils to sniff out drugs. Inspired by this, MI5, a branch of British Intelligence specialising in threats to national security such as terrorism and foreign espionage, tested a system in which gerbils were trained to flip a switch if they sensed the chemicals released by a person who is suffering from extreme stress or anxiety. The gerbils were trained to literally smelled fear.
The Israeli security forces also worked on this project. The aim being to have everyone travelling on an El Al flight secretly sniffed out by a gerbil with the intention of identifying potential hijackers. The scheme failed when they discovered the gerbils could not tell the difference between a nervous terrorist, and the anxiety of someone who is afraid of flying.
Because of the Israeli failure MI5 eventually abandoned their plans - but kept everything secret until they recently announced they were declassifying 400,000 files, including the Gerbil File!
by Ann-Marie Roberts “T&T Gerbils”
I often wonder what the effects on the world would be if my entire gerbil clan escaped. They are very hearty creatures that have an overwhelming urge to dig. The Latin term for the word gerbil is Meriones Unguiculatus, meaning they are clawed warriors. Gerbils have sharp claws that are about one eighth of an inch long. They are capable of doing a lot of destruction with these claws.
The thought of all thirty-eight of my gerbils escaping at the same time is very scary. They could form themselves into one big colony and would reproduce very quickly. Gerbils give birth once a month with a litter of typically three to six pups. They have been known to produce up to ten pups per litter. A gerbil can give birth until she is about one and a half years old. At this rate of reproduction, the original colony of thirty-eight could easily reach into the hundreds, maybe even thousands!
With this many gerbils, they could destroy almost anything with their teeth and claws. No tree would be left standing, no house would go untouched! They would destroy every field of crops that they come across, leaving us with a shortage of food. The would terrorize every dog and cat that would try to stop them.
Gerbils are also equipped with another great defense mechanism: the ability to shed their tail. Gerbils’ tails are completely covered in fur with the tip of the tail being a big busy tuft of hair. Most predators, like owls for example, swoop down to grab a gerbil by its tail. The gerbil in return easily sheds its tail and is able to escape. The gerbil recovers from this, but the tail doesn’t grow back, making it harder to escape if they are ever grabbed again.
If the colony of gerbils were to approach children playing, the children would turn and run in fear thinking the little gerbils look like a pack of rats coming at them. No one would be able to sleep because of all the noise the gerbils would make scratching at the sides of houses.
The gerbils could destroy all of Escanaba in a few days and take on the entire Upper Peninsula within a week. They are smart little creatures and would cross the Mackinac Bridge before destroying it. In a month’s time, they would have most of the United States in total turmoil. They would sneak aboard ships and planes to reach other countries. Along their trail of destruction, they would help other gerbils to escape from their cages. There would be no end to the destruction!
Thankfully, this is just a nightmare and all my gerbies are safe at home in secure cages. I’m left wondering what happened to my journal. Maybe the gerbils did escape and turned my journal into pile of bedding?
© 2001 American Gerbil Society Inc.