Gerbils and Hamsters, what’s the difference? Many people unfamiliar with rodents would say they’re the same thing. I often find myself correcting my father on the difference between the two species. Yes, as avid small pet lovers know, Gerbils and Hamsters have very different needs.
Pictured below are a gerbil on the left and hamster on the right. The most notable difference between the two is their tail. Gerbils have long furry tails and hamsters have shorter tails with little to no fur. Most hamster species kept as pets have very short tails, with the longest tail belonging to the Chinese Dwarf Hamster, measuring in at about 3cm. Compare that with the Mongolian Gerbil’s 10cm tail and the difference is clear.
However, that’s not all. Another notable difference is cheek pouches, hamsters have them while gerbils do not. Hamsters use cheek pouches for storing food they find while out foraging. Alternatively, gerbils rely on their speed to bring food back and forth to their nest. You will see many pictures of hamsters with full chubby cheeks, not gerbils. A hamster can fill its cheek pouches with up to 20% of its body weight. I weigh 175lbs, that’s like if I put 35lbs of food in my mouth at once!
I bring up these visual differences to illustrate that though the two animals look similar, they are two distinct species of small pet that belong to different family groups. Yes, as the title suggest you need two gerbils, but one hamster. The reason for this has to do with the animals’ behavior.
Gerbils are social creatures. in the wild Mongolian Gerbils live in colonies with about 1-3 males and 2-14 females. Like humans, they form packs. If you were to get a single pet gerbil it would have no one to associate with. Gerbils thrive on social interaction and without it are likely to become stressed/depressed. Signs of a depressed gerbil include but are not limited to: lack of activity, lack of appetite, oversleeping, bar chewing, floor scratching, and abstaining from drinking water.
Conversely, Hamsters are solitary creatures. While your hamster may enjoy your company, it will not enjoy the company of its peers. In rare cases sisters from the same litter can live together but, that’s the exception not the rule. No matter how big your hamster’s cage may be it is not wise to house multiple hamsters together. Like gerbils who are housed alone, hamsters who are housed together will become stressed and potentially aggressive. This is because hamsters are territorial. In the wild, other than when breeding, hamsters live alone. Isolation is part of a hamster’s nature. Housing two hamsters together is a great way to end up with one hamster.
In conclusion, while both gerbils and hamsters make great pets, they each have their own quirks that distinguish them as different pets entirely. Gerbils are social while Hamsters are antisocial. If you’re going to get a gerbil, get two; if you’re going to get a hamster, get one.