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“Intelligent gerbils” is a phrase coined by writer Robert J. Sawyer to describe how some extraterrestrial races are characterized in science fiction. Take a terrestrial animal, then make it bipedal, smart, but still largely informed by the behaviors of the Earth animal it’s modeled after (be that animal a lizard, insect, bird, or what have you) and you’ve got yourself an “intelligent gerbil” running around the galaxy.