Besides the physical and the behavioral differences, there are a lot of other differences between a hamster and a gerbil. Even though they are completely different species, they both are mammals and are very popular pets.
First of all there are physical differences between hamsters and gerbils. On an average, hamsters are slightly bigger, around 6-7 inches whereas gerbils reach 5-6 inches also including the beautiful tail. Gerbil’s tail is 3-5 inches long, furry with a tuft of hair at the end. Hamster’s tail is short and stubby.
They look different too. Gerbils have longer snout like rats do whereas hamsters have shorter snout. Gerbils are appealing to some as they love standing on their long hind legs. Hamsters have short and stocky legs. The average life span of both hamsters and gerbils are about two to five years. Some varieties may live up to seven years.
Hamsters come in more varieties of patterns and colors then gerbils do. Syrian, Teddy bear, Golden, Siberian, Chinese dwarf, Winter White Dwarf, Hairless, Panda Bear, Long haired and Short haired are some popular varieties. Gerbils also have varieties but Mongolian Gerbils are more popular as pets.
Secondly, there is the behavioral difference between a Hamster and a Gerbil. Gerbils are generally curious, energetic and fun. Hamsters on the other hand are usually laid back but they both love running the wheel. Hamsters tend to bite more even if you had them for a long time. On the contrary tamed gerbils very rarely bite. They love being held, making them great pets for children.
Hamsters generally are nocturnal. They sleep at day and are active during nights whereas gerbils are diurnal but in captivity can be active during day or night. They take naps whenever they feel like taking one. Since gerbils are desert animals, they produce very little waste. In turn, the housing areas do not stink and stays cleaner longer. Hamster on the other hand can be stinky and their tanks have to be cleaned very frequently.
Hamsters are more solitary and territorial and should be housed separately from others as they get into fights more often and can hurt each other. Having said that, some dwarf hamsters like Campbell dwarf and Chinese dwarf can be kept in groups as they are less likely to fight. Gerbils are more social, get along together more and can be housed together. A company and a play area is all they need to be happy. It is wise to get two baby gerbils as they bond faster. Adult gerbils get in the fight with newcomers and split cage method has to be implemented until they get accustomed to each other. It is always best to keep two males as females in both the species are more aggressive and territorial.
Chewing and feeding behaviors are not much different between a hamster and a gerbil. Both of them eat the same kind of food but excess green vegetables and fruits can cause diarrhea in gerbils. Thus, these kinds of food should only be fed once or twice a week and in small quantity. Hamsters show food hoarding behavior as they are equipped with cheek pouches to store and transport food. Gerbils, on the other hand, do not have any pouches.
The differences between a hamster and a gerbil is ample however, they both can be great pets if you are a responsible pet owner.