At first glance, the diminutive hamsters and gerbils often get mistaken to be the same species. Though hamsters and gerbils are thought to be similar in many ways, these two are completely different separate species with their own characters.
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Physical attributes: Gerbil vs Hamster
Gerbils are slightly smaller in comparison to hamsters. Excluding the tail, gerbils can grow up to four to six inches, and great gerbils can be as big as eight inches. On the other hand, hamsters vary in sizes. On average, they can only grow up to three to five inches. The Roborovski is limited to two inches long, whereas Syrian hamsters can reach up to six to seven inches.
Further, the average weight of an adult gerbil is 0.15 lbs, whilst adult pet hamsters vary in weight:
Other differences between gerbil and hamster:
- Gerbils have slightly longer tails than hamsters.
- Hamsters have shorter snout or nose.
- Gerbils have longer hind legs perfect for standing positions, whilst hamsters have shorter legs and wider feet.
Personality and behaviour: Gerbil vs Hamster
Gerbils are the master of their own time. They take naps anytime they feel the need to. They are generally diurnal but when kept in captivity, they can be active day or night. On top of that, they are energetic and fun.
As for hamsters, they are generally nocturnal. They are usually observed sleeping in daytime and active at night-time. In other words, you are likely to learn how to handle pets that might keep you awake at night. That being said, it is best to place them away from the bedroom. One thing that will surely make your hamsters happy is a hamster wheel.
Gerbils are sociable creatures that happy while housed with other gerbils. In fact, they live in a colony in the wild. They thrive well when kept in pairs. Just be sure not to house opposite-gender gerbils together to avoid unwanted offsprings.
Different hamster species have socialisation differences. The Syrian hamster is known for its notorious records in fights when caged with other hamsters. Keep in mind to keep a Syrian hamster alone. Dwarf hamsters, on the other hand, can be kept with their littermates. They are known to be at their best when introduced at a young age. However, it may be a different case for an older dwarf hamster.
Chances of being bitten
Despite looking like rats, gerbils rarely bite. In fact, they like the feeling of being held, which makes them an ideal choice for families with children.
However, hamsters are known to bite more often. They are very much likely to bite when they are woken up from their sleep.
Given that hamsters have cheek pouches that are helpful to store and transport food, they are likely to have food hoarding behaviour. On the other hand, gerbils don’t have cheek pouches.
Gerbils can only produce up to six little ones in a single litter. Wild gerbils are seen in colonies in the wild due to constant reproduction (a litter per month). However, this can be avoided in captivity.
Further, hamsters can produce as many as twenty-four offsprings in a single litter, although they differ by breed.
- Syrian hamsters can have seven little hamsters as well as twenty-four in a single litter.
- Campbell’s dwarf hamsters can have four to eight.
- Chinese, Djungarian, and Roborovski species may have smaller litters compared to the two mentioned types.
Which makes better pets?
- Gerbils like to stay in pairs and can form strong bonds with each other. They are also great parents to their young ones.
- They are very energetic, which makes them entertaining to watch.
- They can switch from napping to playing at any time.
- Practise handling them at a young age. With that, they are less likely to nip.
- They pee less. As such, their cages are easier to clean.
- Hamsters are solitary creatures that like to live alone. They are likely to fight and may cannibalise their young.
- They are good performers, running in their wheels.
- As nocturnal animals, they are likely asleep all day.
- Hamsters easily get anxious, which makes them tend to nip more.
- They are known to pee a lot. As such, their cages need more frequent cleaning.
General Health: Gerbils vs Hamsters
Average lifespan: 2 to 4 years
Age at puberty: at 10 weeks
Gestation: 24 to 26 days
Common health issues:
- Aural cholesteatoma (head tilt)
- Skin diseases such as mites, matted fur, facial dermatitis, and others
Average lifespan: 1.5 to 3 years
Age at puberty: at 6 to 8 weeks
Gestation: 15 to 16 days
Common health issues:
- Dental disease
- Proliferative ileitis (wet tail)
- Pouch impactions