In many countries around the world, hamsters are one of the most popular small pets as they have many appealing features that make them ideal pets for people of all ages. While most people can recognize a hamster, there are many things about these fascinating creatures that people do not know. Here are 20 interesting facts about hamsters.
1. There Are 25 Species
Many people mistakenly believe that hamsters are just one animal that comes in various colors. However, there are 25 recognized breeds of hamster that each have features that distinguish them from other breeds. These 25 are divided into seven main categories.
2. They Were First Discovered in Syria
The original discovery of hamsters was made in Syria. However, this is not the only location where hamsters are found in the wild as they live in many countries around the world. In most cases, hamsters live in dry areas, such as on the edges of deserts.
3. They Are Omnivores
Hamsters are omnivores, which means they eat both plant-based foods and small amounts of meat. Their natural diet consists predominantly of grasses and grains. They also eat some small insects which they find at night when they leave their burrows. Hamsters kept as domestic pets should eat a diet as close to that of the diet eaten in the wild as possible.
4. Their Name Has German Roots
Although hamsters are usually native to countries with deserts and to many parts of Asia, it is believed that their name has German origins. The German word ‘hamastra’ means ‘to hoard’. It is thought that hamsters were given this name as they collect food in their cheeks and then hoard it in their burrows.
5. They Have Open Tooth Roots
Hamsters have open incisor teeth roots. This means their incisors continue to grow throughout their life. The long incisors of a hamster are one of this animal’s most distinctive features. It is because their teeth continue to grow that hamsters must wear their teeth down, either by gnawing or through their natural diet.
6. Their Cheeks Serve a Useful Purpose
Another of hamster’s distinctive features is its large cheeks. They have pouches in their cheeks that reach from the corners of the hamster’s mouth all the way back to its shoulders. A hamster uses its cheek pouches to gather and hoard food to take back to its burrow. When a hamster’s cheeks are full, they puff out giving its face a much wider appearance.
7. Hamsters Were Not Domesticated Until 1939
Despite having a long history as wild animals, hamsters were not bred in captivity and domesticated until 1939. A zoologist called Israel Aharonicaptured a brother-sister pairing in Syria in 1930 and imported them to the University of Jerusalem where he began studying the animals and breeding them. The female gave birth to 12 pups in her first litter. His breeding program was not considered successful until 1939. It was several years before the original colony of hamsters the scientists bred was exported to the United States to sell as pets and they remain popular pets in the United States to this day. It is believed that all domestic golden hamsters are descendants of the original pairing.
8. They Have Poor Eyesight
A surprising fact about hamsters is that they have very poor eyesight. They are very short-sighted and must rely on their other senses, such as their hearing and smell, to get around. Hamsters are also color blind.
9. Hamsters Communicate in the Ultrasonic Range
Hamsters communicate with each other using a range of noises. They have acute hearing and are particularly sensitive to high-pitched noises. They can communicate and hear noises in the ultrasonic range. This means that they can hear noises that are too high-pitched for the human audio range.
10. They Leave Scent Trails
Most hamsters have scent glands on their flanks, although Chinese and dwarf hamsters have their scent glands on their abdomens. As they move around, they leave a scent trail. This helps them to navigate their way back to their burrow. Hamsters have a strong sense of smell that picks up their own scent trails and that of other hamsters. Their sense of smell also helps them to find food and to distinguish between the sexes.
11. Not All Hamsters Are Sociable
While some hamsters like to live in pairs or small groups, many prefer solitude. This depends of the breed of hamster. For example, golden hamsters live alone or with their mate in the wild. They have a lifelong monogamous relationship with their mate. Keeping a golden hamster with other hamsters can lead to aggression. Other breeds of hamster are best kept in same-sex pairings or in small groups as they are more sociable.
12. They Live in Burrows in the Wild
In the wild, hamsters live in burrows. These are underground tunnels with different compartments. A hamster creates its own burrow and has a natural burrowing instinct. The burrows often have several entrances and different chambers for food storage, nesting, and activity. During the day, hamsters have several periods where they are awake but stay in their burrows to avoid predators. Hamsters usually only leave their burrows in twilight or darkness to find food or get exercise.
13. Hamster Pups Are Blind and Hairless
Hamster pups have a very different appearance when they are born to what they look like as adults. Like many animals, hamsters are completely blind when they are born. They are also completely hairless.
14. They Have a Short Gestation Period
Hamsters have an extremely short gestation period, although the exact period of gestation varies between breeds. The gestation period for Syrian hamsters is between 16 and 18 days while Roborovski hamsters have a gestation period of 23 to 30 days.
15. They Are Crepuscular
Hamsters are often referred to as being nocturnal, but they are crepuscular. A nocturnal animal is one that sleeps during the day and is only active at night and this is not the case for hamsters. They have periods of activity in their burrows during the day and come out from twilight to dawn. They only stay in their burrows during the day to avoid predators. A crepuscular animal is one that is active at twilight, so this is a better description of a hamster
16. The Roborovski Hamster is the Smallest Hamster Breed
Of the 25 breeds of hamsters, the Roborovski hamster is the smallest. Also referred to as the ‘Robo’ hamster, this breed can measure as little as two inches in length.
17. The Largest Hamster Breed is the European Hamster
At the other end of the scale is the European hamster, which is the largest of the hamster breeds. This hamster breed can measure over 13 inches in length.
18. Hamster Litters Can Include Up to 24 Pups
The number of pups a hamster gives birth to in a litter varies greatly. The average for a Syrian hamster is seven pups per litter. The most pups in one litter of Syrian hamsters is 24 and this is the most that this breed can contain in their uterus. This is much more than Campbell’s dwarf hamsters as the size of their litters is usually between four and eight pups. In some cases, a female Campbell dwarf hamster may give birth to as many as 13 pups. The litters are much smaller for Roborovski hamsters and Chinese hamsters.
19. The Golden Hamster is the Most Popular Pet Breed
Of all the breeds of hamsters, it is the golden hamster that is the most popular and most commonly kept breed. These were the first hamsters that were bred in captivity and kept as pets. People like this breed because of their size, their cute features, the ease of care, and the fact that they can keep one hamster alone. These are also an easy animal to breed.
20. The Natural Habitats of Hamsters Are Now under Threat
The natural habitats of hamsters are becomingly increasingly threatened. This is because of housing and commercial developments in the areas where they live. Although golden hamsters are the most common breed in captivity, they are now rare in the wild. They only live in a few areas of Syria and are gradually becoming endangered. The International Union of Conservation of Nature has listed this species as ‘Vulnerable’.
Although hamsters are a well-known animal and a popular pet, people often know very little about them. After reading these facts, you have probably realized that hamsters are a much more interesting animal than you had originally thought.