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Jerboas are small kangaroo-like rodents with large hind legs that make up the family Dipodidae. Three species of jerboas occur in North Africa, and a number of other species occur in Asia.

Jerboas are typically pale-colored, with large eyes, immense ears, a long tail, small front legs and paws, and distinctively large hind legs and feet, which are used for jumping. Although the body length of a typical jerboa is only about 2-4 in (5-10 cm), these animals can cover as far as 6.5-10 ft (2-3 m) in a single leap, using their long tail for balance. The remarkable jumping ability of jerboas is likely adaptive for avoiding their predators. When they are in less of a rush, jerboas move about using short hops, or even with alternate strides of the hind legs.

Jerboas typically live in arid and semi-arid habitats. They generally avoid the heat of day and conduct their foraging activities at night when it is relatively cool. During the day, jerboas retreat to their underground tunnels, which they tightly plug to keep the hot air out and the moisture in.

Jerboas mostly feed on succulent plant tissues and seeds as well as insects when they are available. Jerboas sometimes cause significant damages to crops in fields and gardens. Jerboas can satisfy all of their requirements for moisture through water that is produced metabolically when foods are oxidized during respiration. However, these animals will drink readily when water is available.

The desert jerboas (Jaculus spp.) are four species occurring in North Africa and southwestern Europe. The greater Egyptian jerboa (Jaculus jaculus) is a widespread species and was dubbed the "desert rat" by soldiers during the Second World War.

The hairy-footed jerboa (Dipus sagitta) is a widespread and relatively abundant Asian species. The earth hares (Allactaga spp.) are nine species of the steppes and deserts of Asia and Egypt, which sometimes cause minor agricultural damages. The three-toed dwarf jerboas (Salpingotus spp.) are four little-known species of the deserts of central Asia.

Bill Freedman

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