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Posts Tagged ‘Israel Aharoni’

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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