20 June 2022

Libyan Jird colony - Jubail

I set off from home at 03:00 in mid-June to get to Jubail for first light. By 04:30 just as it was getting light, I noticed the first Jirds on the side of the road in an area where Umer Farooq had told me he had seen animals.  I saw a large number of Libyan Jird Meriones libycus but to be certain of their identity I sent a photo to Mansur Al Fahd who is extremely knowledgeable about most of the Kingdom’s wildlife, and he replied “There is no doubt is Libyan Jird (Meriones libycus) as it was seen in large numbers. Daytime activity (it is active in summer at the beginning and end of the day when the temperature is somewhat low). You can notice its black nails and it usually raises its tail when escaping”. Deserts, such as those of Saudi Arabia, are harsh environments where daily and seasonal temperatures are extreme, and rainfall is scant or non-existent. Solar radiation is intense and there is little primary productivity in the form of vegetation (Degen 1997). The climate of Saudi Arabia is characteristically harsh with rainfall being sporadic and unpredictable and temperatures climbing often well above 40 °C. Under such conditions food resources and water are scarce, yet many small mammals are able to survive and reproduce, one of the most successful being the Libyan Jird Meriones libycus. The Libyan Jird is one of the most widely distributed species among rodents, ranging across nearly the entire Palearctic Desert Belt from Morocco in Northwest Africa to China. It occupies desert and semidesert habitats, generally in areas with stabilized dunes. It becomes most abundant in unflooded river plains, and it is often found close to wadies and occasionally in arable land. Fifteen subspecies were described but their validity and the phylogenetic relationships among them are uncertain. A recent study defined subspecies limits within Meriones libycus into three allopatric lineages within M. libycus: Western lineage in North Africa, Central lineage in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria, and Eastern lineage in Iran, Afghanistan, and China. The results support the existence of at least three subspecies within the libyan jird: African Meriones libycus libycus, Levant-Arabian M. l. syrius, and Eastern Meriones libycus erythrourus.