17 October 2022

Libyan Jirds – Khafra Marsh

As my daughters are back in Saudi Arabia for the summer school holidays and one wanted to see the Libyan Jirds I had seen earlier in the year. As a result, we set off from home at 03:45 in late August to get to Jubail for first light. By 05:15 just as it was getting light, we noticed the first Jirds on the side of the road where I had seen them before. The sun was not up, but as the animals were very close photography was possible. We stayed looking at the Jirds for a couple of hours and during this time the light became better and better photographs could be taken. Once the temperature started to get too hot, around 07:00 the jirds started to disappeare down their burrows. The underground burrow system of these animals is extensive and often they would go down one hole and reappear hortly after some distance away out of another burrow. The climate of Saudi Arabia is characteristically harsh with rainfall being sporadic and unpredictable and temperatures often climbing well above 40 °C. Under such conditions food resources and water are scarce, yet many small mammals can 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. A recent study defined subspecies limits within Meriones libycus into three allopatric lineages within M. libycus: Western lineage in North Africa Meriones libycus libycus, Central lineage in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria M. l. syrius, and Eastern lineage in Iran, Afghanistan, and China Meriones libycus erythrourus.