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Hamster on a leash

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I don’t recommend this. Hamsters have very loose skin– probably an adaptation to keep them from being caught on roots and in narrow tunnels when they are underground. It would not take much maneuvering for a hamster to wriggle out of a leash, although with the leash position there, it would be more difficult.

But then there is the chance that the hamster could have damaged its internal organs.

So not a good idea.

Still an insane video.

Who names a hamster “Beawolf”?  (Beowulf).

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I had hamster called the Black-eyed Bitch, because she was a black-eyed cream- -just like the hamster in the photo above.

And she would bite, even when she was “tamed” she would bite.

Golden hamsters bite. I’ve never known one not to try it.

But I’m being told that there are hamster strains now that have been rigorously selected for benign temperament.

I could have used those back when I decided to become a hamster farmer.

It was one of those childhood flights of fancy.

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I break with convention here and still call Mesocricetus auratus “the golden hamster.”  The trend is to call them Syrian hamsters.

However, the scientific name actually means “Golden mid-sized hamster.”

So I’m going to call them golden hamsters, even if the vast majority of captive hamsters in that species come in lots of different colors.

The wild-type coloration lovely golden brown:

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I know lots about the behavior of this species.

One thing that always fascinated me was the little scent glands on the hips of a male hamster.

Right above the hips there are these little glands that produce a secretion that he rubs against his cage (or, in the wild, his burrow) to leave a scent.

On a wild-type hamster, he actually bleaches out the fur that grows above those glands.

If he smells a female hamster in season, he goes into marking with those glands big time.

Hamsters communicate by scent. That’s because they live solitary lives in the wild, and their home ranges tend to be quite large for such a small species. If a male and female meet and she’s not in season, they will fight. The female is usually much larger than the male, and she can kill him.

So when the female hamster comes in season, she  produces an odor that even humans can detect. (I know I can.)

When the male hamster smells that odor, he will travel several miles to meet her.

Using such  strong chemical communication is quite useful for this unusually solitary species.

The signal acts as a kind of green light for the male. Otherwise, he’d be risking a lot to come into a female’s range when she’s not receptive.

Captive hamster breeders don’t have to recognize the smell. Just putting your hand on the female is enough to make her assume the position.

And because the female cycles every four days, it is easy to figure out when to put the female in the male’s cage.

The gestation period is only 16 days– the shortest of all placental mammals.

The females tend to have rather large litters, and it’s also not unusual for a female to eat a few of her babies. Even ensuring that the female has enough protein in her normal diet isn’t enough to stop all cannibalism.

These animals are very different from dogs. If they weren’t so cute, I seriously doubt that anyone would have considered them as children’s pets.

They were originally domesticated from a single litter that was captured near Aleppo. A zoologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem named Israel Aharoni captured this litter in 1930. It is from this litter that all domestic hamsters in the US descend.

They were bred to be laboratory animals.

That’s all they were meant to be.

A colony was established in Britain in the 1930’s.  These all were then put in the hands of private breeders, who began producing them as pets.

A cute hamster is something that can be easily be marketed to children.

However, keep in mind that these animals are nocturnal. I have seen a few that have been conditioned to be diurnal. You can actually buy them at Harrods.

However, as nocturnal animals, you really don’t get much opportunity to interact with them.

And they really don’t have social behavior.

I don’t believe for a second that a hamster can actually bond to you.

They may associate your scent with food, and that’s about it.

I had one that escaped that actually came out from behind the wall to me. I thought this was very cool, but I now realize that it was only because I gave him hamster yogurt treats that he came calling from his hiding place.

Hamsters are bad about escaping. Very bad. You have to check the locks and hatches on their cages every time you put them back. Or they’ll flee captivity.

Good names for golden hamsters are Papillon (Henri Charrière) and Houdini. I had about four named Houdini.

I would hardly call them ideal children’s pets.

But they are an interesting animal to get to know.

I think they might be better marketed to busy adults who really want a much more independent animal.

They really don’t require that much care.

And because they are so emotionally different from us, they are kind of like sharing space with an alien life form– one with an entirely different set of instincts, drives, and perceptions.

I didn’t appreciate those differences when I had them as child.

I don’t think many children can.

But if you really want to be with an animal very different from humans, I can’t think of a better choice.

They are just different.

And that makes them fascinating.

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And close-up:

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I once spent a summer as a hamster breeder. I raised golden or “Syrian” hamsters. At one point, I had 14 animals, all of which were either purchased from Walmart or from an aquarium store that also sold rodents.

This species is quite common in captivity, but it is incredibly inbred.

All golden hamsters in captivity descend from a single female and her litter that was captured near Aleppo in 1930 by the zoologist  Israel Aharoni, who was a Jewish person living in what was then Palestine. He captured a female and her pups in hopes of breeding them as research animals. The female died while still nursing her offspring, and only four of the litter of seven survived. These four would be the ancestors of all the hamsters you are likely to buy. (There is another captive population captured in 1999, but these aren’t part of the typical pet population).

Of all the pet rodents you can buy, this species is probably the worst. During those years raising hamsters, I suppose I was bitten at least 100 times.  Golden hamsters are not social, and they are nocturnal (at least in captivity). They are also very easily unnerved and usually respon to their anxieties with nips.

I had one black-eyed cream that was a notorious biter. Her name was “The Black-eyed Bitch” for that reason. Like most her species, she was only tolerant of a male during her estrous cycle, which occurs every 4 days until the female is bred. If I put a male into her cage and she wasn’t in the mood, she’d try to kill him. (Male golden hamsters are often 1/3 smaller than the females, and The Black-eyed Bitch was a big female.)

Because I could predict the estrous cycles and because the females were so aggressive towards the males, I really got good at determining when breedings could take place. In fact, I actually developed an ability to sense the peculiar smell given off by a female golden hamster in estrous. It is quite pungent. This strong odor helped them reproduce in the wild, because this species has large home ranges. They are also highly solitary. The strong odor the females give off is strong enough to attract the males from miles away.

The really interesting thing about them is that when the females were bred, the gestation period was only 16 days. That is the shortest gestation period for any placental mammal. The females build nests for their young, and then give birth to them.

Lots of female hamsters get hungry after giving birth and then eat their offspring. It’s just something they do. And they have huge litters. I suppose this large litter size is an adaptation to the females’ tendency to eat some of their offspring.

Yes, I almost want to go back to breeding hamsters. They are already far more inbred than any dog. They are cute and come in more and more exotic colors and coat lengths.  Their temperaments are already surly; in fact, people expect the surly temprament. And they don’t have enough brains to be trained, and they have no working abilities that can be ruined through stupid breeding practices.

In short, they are the perfect “fancy” animal that can be “improved” until we have them in all sorts of bizarre shapes. If dog shows disappear, they will probably be replaced by rodent shows.

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