Degus are small rodents that live in Chile (in South America), usually in groups and are diurnal (meaning they sleep in the night rather than day). They look like gerbils, just a little bigger, and have medium length tails that give them the name ‘brush tail rats’. They live for up to about 15 years, and are very agile and natural climbers.
Although degus are classified as being in the rodent family, recent studies have shown that they are more related to rabbits than rats.
Degus turn into adults when they are about 1 year old. When they are adults, they are about 25-31cm long (including their tail), and weigh roughly 170-230g.
The most common coat colour in degus is ‘agouti’, where the hairs are grey at the bottom, with a brown stripe, and a grey tip. Another coat colour is ‘blue’, with a plain grey hair, and sometimes a darker grey tip. Other colours are: ‘champagne agouti’, which is the same as the agouti except the bottom is pale cream. Then there is ‘sand’, which is a gingery colour, and ‘white patched agouti’ which is an agouti with white patches. Two rarer colours are white and black (dark brown).
Degus are semifossorial, which means they live partly above ground and partly underground. They prefer to dig in soft soil, so they usually make their burrows in the Winter or after rainfall. They use their teeth and front legs to dig. When they are in groups they often organise themselves in a ‘digging chain’ so that it takes a shorter time to create their burrows.
Degus forage for roughly 5-6 hours a day, and while they do that they are always on the look-out for predators. They mainly eat herbs, shrubs and leaves, and like many other animals they store lots of food in their burrows for Winter. They also chew on wood bark to keep their teeth healthy (healthy degu teeth are orange).
Degus as pets
Now degus have become available as pets, their cleverness and vivid memory makes them very easy to train. They aren’t very popular as pets right now, but everyday more and more people get them as pets. Like us, we’ve had degus as pets over three years now.
Here are some photos of our degus, Nibbles and Fluffy: