September 2021’s Animal Of The Month – Hamsters

By September 30, 2021 No Comments

It’s the last day of September, which means we are wrapping up our time with our Animal of the Month – the hamster. Were you following us on Twitter @ExoticPetVets as we tweeted all month long about these popular pets? Did you hoard all of the fun and fascinating facts (see what we did there?)? Here is a recap of our tweets in case you missed any. And even if you didn’t miss any, you can reference this summary anytime. Did you know?:

  • You may be surprised to learn that there are about two-dozen hamster species in the world, but only five are kept in captivity.
  • The most popular hamster species kept in captivity by far is the Syrian hamster, which is the species we are highlighting in this edition of Animal Of The Month.
  • The Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) is also commonly known as the golden hamster and teddy bear hamster.
  • Syrian hamsters are very popular family pets and seem to be everywhere, but they are actually rare to spot in the wild.
  • Wild Syrian hamsters are found in an extremely small geographical area along Syria’s border with Turkey. The IUCN Red List says their range is “definitely less” than 20,000 square kms, but could actually be less than 5,000 square kms.
  • The preferred habitats for wild Syrian hamsters include semi-arid grassy plains known as steppes, desert edges and sand dunes.
  • With the continuous expansion of human activity and settlements, wild Syrian hamsters also now inhabit agricultural areas. They are widely regarded as an agricultural pest.
  • Syrian hamsters are difficult to observe in the wild because they spend much of their time living in elaborate underground burrows where they are protected from predators and extreme weather, store food, breed and sleep.
  • The IUCN Red List says the wild Syrian hamster population is shrinking – and humans are 100% to blame. The IUCN says habitat loss and direct persecution and poisoning are causing hamster numbers to decline.
  • Syrian hamsters are small rodents with stocky bodies and short legs. Adults reach an average length of 6 inches (15 cms). A healthy weight for them is between 4 and 5 ounces (110 – 140 grams).
  • In their original state, Syrian hamsters have golden brown fur on their backs, legs and most of their heads. Their undersides and feet are creamy white. Some may have dark patches on the sides of their faces and foreheads.
  • Captive breeding has created many different colours, patterns and types of Syrian hamster fur. Some varieties (or morphs) include tortoiseshell, cinnamon, long-hair and rex.
  • It may not look like it with a quick glance, but Syrian hamsters have tails. Their tails are so small though that they are not easy to see.
  • Syrian hamsters have scent glands on their flanks (hips). These glands are used to mark territory, communicate through scent marking, and in sexual behaviour.
  • The scent glands on Syrian hamsters are flat and look like dark spots on their fur. These glands are more visually prominent in the male, who will lick or scratch them if he is in an excited state.
  • While the scent glands in female Syrian hamsters may not be as visually prominent, the odour can be stronger in females.
  • Like all hamsters, Syrian hamsters have pouches in their cheeks that are so large they stretch back through both sides of their faces to their shoulders.
  • Hamsters will stuff these cheek pouches with food when they are out foraging and will bring the food back to their burrows where they will store it for future meals.
  • Given this behaviour of storing food, it should come as no surprise that the word “hamster” comes from the German word “hamstern,” which means “hoard.”
  • Syrian hamsters are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. In the wild, they will eat fruits, vegetables, grain, nuts, seeds, small frogs, lizards and insects.
  • Did you know that Syrian hamsters have something unusual in common with humans? When it comes to infectious diseases, both humans and Syrian hamsters have similar symptoms, disease development and immune system responses.
  • Because of this similarity to humans, Syrian hamsters are widely used in medical research, including – but not limited to – research into COVID-19.
  • Syrian hamsters have been instrumental in the study of how COVID-19 is transmitted and how the virus develops in the body (pathogenesis).
  • In the global effort to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, Syrian hamsters have been key in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, which are saving lives and helping prevent severe illness and hospital admissions among people who are vaccinated.
  • Did you know that a hamster has been a candidate for President of the United States in every election since 1996?
  • In the 2020 U.S. election, the “Hamster for President” campaign fielded Diddley Squat VII as its presidential nominee with Monaham as his running mate. They lost to the Biden-Harris ticket.
  • Syrian hamsters – and hamsters generally – are well represented in pop culture; especially in children’s programs and stories.
  • While cats are most often linked with fun Internet content, there are plenty of hamster memes and videos online. The Hamster Dance, for example, was created in the late 1990’s by a Canadian art student and is considered to be one of the very first Internet memes.

This is the third time hamsters have been our featured creatures for Animal of the Month. Check out our blog posts from December 2014 and October 2017 to see our tweets about hamsters the previous two times they have been in our spotlight!

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