Gerbilishly Challenged

A blurry Dusty, milliseconds before rejecting my offering.

I have loved and cared for many rodents over the years.

I’ve had two rats, one fancy rat and one sewer rat (posing as a fancy rat).

I’ve owned the world’s most ornery guinea pig.

I’ve cared for wild mice.

And I’ve had gerbils. Lots and lots of gerbils.

I love rodents because they’re cute and small and easy to care for. They’re fun and playful and full of vim and vigor. They have big personalities.

But I think what I love the most about rodents is their intelligence. Rodents are dang smart.

Lucy, my fancy rat, figured out the latch on her cage and would explore the house whenever the mood struck her. Ethel, my sewer rat (and Lucy’s roommate), was also smart, but in a different way. When Lucy escaped, Ethel stayed put; being a sewer rat, Ethel understood the harshness of the wider world and had no desire to leave the cushy existence I had set up for her.

My childhood gerbil, Jerbs, also escaped from his cage repeatedly—not to explore and raise hell like Lucy, but just to see if he could. It was a puzzle he enjoyed solving. When I would come down to breakfast to find an empty cage, Jerbs would immediately traipse up to my side and stamp his feet boastfully as if to say, “Hey! See what I did? Awesome, right? I am so awesome!”

My guinea pig, Pigamajig, potty trained herself. This bears repeating: I did not potty train my guinea pig. She potty trained herself. Because Pigamajig was a lady, and ladies don’t just go pee-pee on the floor.

My gerbil, Salt, was observant in the way all mischievous children are, waiting for me to glance the other way before misbehaving. Salt’s buddy, Peppa, was the architect of the duo, arranging his toys and toilet paper tubes into a network of walls and tunnels that rivaled the engineering marvels of the ancient Roman aqueducts.

I could go on, but I think the point is made. Rodents are brilliant.

Well… until I got Dusty and Oreo.

Dusty and Oreo are the newest additions to my household. They’re gerbils. They’re cute. They’re friendly.

But wowza, they’re dumb.

Oreo is terrified of my presence and races behind his exercise wheel to avoid me at all costs. I understand this, of course. Rodents can be very timid and often need time to get used to someone. Despite my apparent threat level (and Oreo’s terrified squeaks of “STRANGER DANGER!”) he’ll always accept treats from me, which is something you really shouldn’t do if you think the treat offeror is an enemy.

But that’s good news, you’re thinking. The fact that Oreo is accepting food from you means that you two are establishing trust, right?

Well, no. Moments after I feed him, Oreo forgets me entirely and repeats his terror run whenever I happen to pass by.

Dusty is different. He associates me with food and races to the cage door whenever he sees me coming. Once I give him the treat, however, he decides that he doesn’t like it.

He’ll drop the delectable morsel and mope off, both disappointed in me and life in general—until I give the same treat to Oreo. Then Dusty wants it. He wants that dang treat more than anything else in the entire world.

So Dusty chases Oreo around the cage demanding the treat. Oreo, the beta male, does as Dusty commands.

Poor Oreo, I think.

So I offer Oreo a second treat. But Oreo runs behind the exercise wheel because I am an evil stranger.

Dusty, after stealing his treat back from Oreo. Camera shy Oreo is hiding behind the exercise wheel.

It should be noted that my gerbils need these treats because they’re starving. The gerbils are starving because they can’t find their food bowl. They can’t find their food bowl because they bury their food bowl under bedding. Then they forget that the food is there.

Sometimes I think I can almost hear their anguished conversations:

I’m so hungry Dusty!

I know, my friend. I am, too.

Maybe we should look around for food?

There’s no point. Searching for food will only weaken us further.

I guess you’re right, Dusty. You’re so smart.

I know, Oreo. I know.

So every day I scoop bedding out of their food bowl and say, “Look dummies, food.”

They stare at the bowl in wonder. “FOOD!” they squeak. They scarf it down. A minute or two later, however, they begin to worry.

The Food is really important! they think.

We need to protect The Food!

We’ll protect The Food by hiding The Food!

We’ll hide The Food under the bedding!

So the gerbils bury the food bowl and, in a twinkling, forget that the food bowl is there.

I sigh. Alarmed by my sigh, Oreo hides behind the exercise wheel.

“STRANGER DANGER!” he cries.

So much dumbness.

But oh, how I love them.

44 Replies to “Gerbilishly Challenged”

  1. LOL! Our whole family enjoyed this one! Over some 30 years, we have had two guinea pigs, a hamster, a fancy rat, and a rabbit (not a rodent, of course, but very smart and cute) along with a steady complement of cats and dogs. The guinea pigs probably gave the most joy for the least woe. Plus, they talk! Wheek! Wheek! We’re now rodent-free, and focused on our predator pets (two cats, one about like Oreo, the other very confident and knows JUST where the food is; two dogs, one elderly and sensible, the other like Oreo in the scaredy department, but like Lucy in the finding-mischief department!)

    1. Oh, piggies are so very chatty, aren’t they? (I had no idea until I had one.) My pig was fearless and fiercely opinionated. She saw herself as the alpha in the house, and perhaps she was. She was a marvelous little bugger.

      I loooove rabbits and would love to keep them as pets, but I’m terribly allergic. After five minutes of bunny cuddles my throat starts to close. My allergies are even worse with cats, but as they are natural rodent predators, I’ve never really cottoned to them in the first place. I am pro-rodent (prodent) all the way!

      I am so glad you and yours liked the post! Please send my best regards to your household—including the furry residents, of course!

  2. What a treat this was! We have had zebra finches for years. I know it’s the old fright/flight scenario, but dang those birds go nuts when we feed them. It’s the old Evil Hand Of Death Is Back Again This Morning!!!! routine. Our society finches were much more laid back. All your rodenty pals seem to have or have had fun personalities.

    1. I didn’t know you were a bird person, Alicia! My grandma had birds (budgies and canaries mostly) and they acted the same way as your zebra finches. Those birds were bonkers.

      And, oh, Alicia, rodents are wonderful! (Even the rare dumb ones!) They are fun and weird and, in most cases, surprisingly sassy.

      1. Hamsters have a bit more solidarity to their personality. Cute but not too dumb. Gerbils are so nervous. They make me nervous just watching them.

      2. Lazy hamsters? Give those critters a wheel and they go kinetic. I’m a mouse fan, overall, but guinea pigs are a hoot.

    1. Oh, do consider it, Snehal! They’re a hoot and so easy to care for. The only thing I would recommend is to get more than one. Rodents a social animals and need at least one friend.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. The names are terrific. The exchanges are hilarious. Poor dumb gerbils. I had a hamster who was also a master escape artist. And, of course you love rodents since the world’s largest rodent is your favorite animal.

  4. Aw….welcome to the Allegra family Oreo and Dusty! You will be well-loved and doted upon, so please get over your nervousness ASAP!

  5. Um for once, I have no words. Except, okay, never mind, I do. Could you, like, maybe, try a different treat? And, um, maybe have each sweetie in his/her own cage? But what do I know? Exactly. I have no words…. 🙂

    1. I could never separate them! Dusty and Oreo are very very close. they play and cuddle together all the time. They just occasionally squabble the way siblings might. Such is the way of pack animals, once the pecking order is established, all is (mostly) well.

  6. LOVED this post! I had to think about what to comment on because I have my own stories. I just didn’t want to write a novel to tell them all, so I will pick one!
    We had a beautiful mini-rex rabbit that was the color of a squirrel. So he was kind of brindle with a white tummy. This was the coolest rabbit ever. His name was Cocoa. He lived in a cage in the middle of the living room floor. He loved to be held and I was his favorite human (even though he was daughter’s rabbit). He would lie in our laps upside down and fall asleep. He was litter box trained also. But when it was time to eat, he would get the cage door with his teeth and shake it so hard, you could hear it all over the house. We tried everything to make him stop including putting hot sauce on the door. Did this work??? Oh No… he would lick it off!! Not even kidding. We had hard wood floors and his cage sat on an area rug so we could take him out and let him run around. He wouldn’t get off the rug because the floors were too slick. He wanted to play with the kitties so bad! They would sit on the hard wood just out of his reach and act like he wasn’t there. They never bothered him or anything so we never had any issues. Our cats were not interested in eating him.. just being ornery…lol! (ok, so it was still a novel, but I have other stories) 😉

    1. And a great novel it was!

      I am envious of your rabbit story. (I’ve always had a soft spot for ornery herbivores.) I love rabbits but am terribly allergic. One time I was in a pet store holding (and falling in love with) a huge welsh hare when my throat started to close up. Every bunny I’ve met since has had the same effect on me…so it looks like I will remain rabbitless from this point forward.


      1. Awwwww…. poor Mikie! Rabbits are so cool. Cocoa was awesome. BUT, daughter went away to boarding school and I developed an allergy to him as well. I gave him back to the lady who owned his daddy.

  7. I would leave a witty comment here, but I can’t stop laughing long enough to think of one. In fact, everything I’ve read by you so far has made me laugh like crazy! Really glad to have you over on my blog today, Mike, and I’ve already pre-ordered Happy Capy for my youngest granddaughter. Or me. (I’m pretty sure I’ll end up ordering two.) Best wishes for LOADS of sales with this one. Capybaras (and you) deserve no less. Happy writing! 😊

    1. Thank you so much, Marcia! I’m delighted to be on your blog and to hear that you enjoyed the guest post and that you think I’m funny and that you preordered Capy…

      Long story short, you’re a great person and I’m glad I know you!

  8. Right back atcha, Mike! Hope to see more of you on TWS when you have fun things to share or just for a visit now and then. Will be checking up on you here when I can. Here’s to a great rest of the week!

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