30 Interesting facts About Hamsters

  1. Hamsters are small rodents native to Eurasia. Their closest relatives are lemmings, voles, muskrats, mice, etc.
  2. There are nearly 20 living species of hamsters, while five of these are common as pets. The most famous is the Syrian or golden hamster. After their discovery in 1797 in the wild, the breeding of Syrian hamsters started in 1930 at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. This process initiated the domestication of hamsters. (Source)
  3. Common (or European) hamsters are the largest species, with a body length of up to 34 cm (13.4 inches). The smallest ones are dwarf desert hamsters having a length between 5 and 10 cm (2 to 4 inches).
  4. Scientists have discovered fossils of extinct hamster species from North Africa. However, no living hamster species inhabit this region.
  5. The primary food of hamsters is grains. However, they are omnivorous mammals that also eat seeds, roots, fruits, and small animals, including invertebrates.
  6. Chocolate is toxic to hamsters because they cannot digest theobromine, while caffeine can badly affect their nervous system. Even a small amount of chocolate (either dark, white, or milk) can harm this pet. Some other common foods (almonds, onion, garlic, etc.) are also unsafe for hamsters.
  7. The short hairless tail in hamsters is their most obvious difference from gerbils. Chinese hamsters have the longest tails among all species, reaching around an inch. 
    A Chinese hamster
    Chinese hamsters have the longest tail among hamsters

  8. Hamsters have the biggest cheek pouches among rodents. They can carry food, bedding materials, and even their young ones in these stretchy pouches that can expand to their shoulder blades.
  9. Hamsters are near-sighted and have poor eyesight because they live underground during the daytime in the wild. They compensate for this weakness with their excellent senses of hearing (including ultrasonic sound), touch, and smell. They can also see better in dim light.
  10. Hamsters are one of a few animals that eat their feces to regain lost nutrients. They only eat the initial soft poop. (Source)
  11. Like some other rodents, the scent glands in hamsters are called flank glands due to their location. They play a vital role in communication between opposite genders and individuals of the same species.
  12. Hamsters are non-hibernating animals, but some species experience torpor (a hibernation-like state) during winter from a few days to weeks. Owners can end this state in pet hamsters by warming their environment.
  13. Like some other rodents and mammals, hamsters are excellent diggers. They construct complex burrows with separate sections for nesting, storing food, and other purposes. Some species use burrows of other animals, such as pikas. Their name comes from a German word meaning “hoarder.”
  14. On average, female hamsters reproduce 5 to 9 pups in a litter after a gestation period of 16 days. The newborns are hairless with closed eyes and ears. 
  15. Female hamsters are usually larger and more aggressive than males. Therefore, male hamsters are friendlier and easier to handle than females.
  16. Female hamsters sometimes eat their babies. It happens due to stress, overcrowding, unbalanced diet, and neglect. Usually, young females show cannibalistic behavior. Male hamsters may also kill unrelated pups.
  17. A study in 2017 has proved that infanticide is prevalent in female hamsters feeding corn. This grain lacks vitamin B3, a micronutrient necessary for a healthy nervous system. (Source)
  18. Hamsters are born with all 16 teeth, which they retain throughout their lives. These include incisors that grow continuously due to open roots, a trait in many rodents. Therefore, they chew hard objects to keep them in proper length.
  19. Hamsters usually live for 2 to 3 years. The oldest hamster ever recorded lived for 4.5 years in the UK. (Source)
  20. Hamsters are among the common animals used in labs. Nearly 80% of these are Syrian hamsters, followed by Chinese and European hamsters. Their unique cheek pouches provide study material for tumors, while they also assist in testing infectious diseases in humans due to their similarity in immune responses.
  21. Experiments on hamsters show that removing a malfunctioned brain’s clock can resume their memories. These studies can prove beneficial for restoring memory loss in people with Alzheimer’s disease, night shift workers, and travelers on a long plane journey. (Source)
  22. Hamsters have the highest tolerance for alcohol in the animal kingdom. They can metabolize 18 grams of alcohol per kg of body weight daily. It happens because their liver can process ethanol very efficiently. Unlike other lab animals, they can start drinking alcohol without training and even prefer it to water. (Source)
    A glass of whisky
    Hamsters have the highest alcohol tolerance among animals

  23. Hamsters have several predators due to their small size. These include birds of prey (kites, buzzards, owls, etc.), large mammals (red foxes, badgers, etc.), and snakes. Hamsters try to protect themselves by staying in their burrows during the day, fighting with sharp incisors, and females transporting their young ones in cheek pouches.
  24. There are several places where keeping hamsters as pets is illegal. These include Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii (USA). The reason is to protect the local ecosystems from these rodents that can reproduce rapidly.
  25. Pet hamsters can carry and spread several infectious diseases (viral and bacterial) to owners. Research shows that these rodents were a likely source of the outbreak of Covid’s Delta variant in humans in Hong Kong. (Source)
  26. European hamsters are unsuitable as pets due to their aggressive nature. However, they are a keystone species in the wild, and their extinction can collapse the entire ecosystem. In 2020, IUCN declared it critically endangered, while this rodent can become extinct in 30 years without adequate measures. The reasons behind its rapid decline are light pollution, climate change, and the spread of monoculture. (Source)
  27. Hamsters are generally solitary and may fight aggressively with other hamsters if put together in a place. However, dwarf hamsters usually tolerate the company of familiar hamsters. Keeping hamsters with other pets can also prove stressful for them.
  28. Pet hamsters need a small box that provides enclosed space to sleep, an exercise wheel to remain healthy, and chew toys to check the continuous growth of their teeth. Compared to several other pets, it is easier to train them using a litter box.
  29. Hamsters are generally nocturnal but occasionally become active in the morning or evening (crepuscular).
  30. If hamsters lose their incisors, these teeth may not grow again, or the new tooth may be deformed.

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