Meet the Hamsters: Syrian Hamster Profile
Syrian Hamsters - A Hamster Classic
When you mention a hamster around most people, the image called to mind is of the classic "Golden" Syrian hamster...a round, cuddly rodent with almost no tail to speak of, and lots of carry on luggage space in the form of large cheek pouches. Syrian Hamsters are often a favorite for individuals looking for a "starter pet" due to their ease of handling, low maintenance nature, and the relatively small amount of space they command compared to other popular domestic pets.
Hamster History - The Origins of the Syrian Hamster
Syrian Hamsters were originally discovered some time in the mid 1700's by a physician in the Aleppo area of Syria who was keeping detailed records of the flora, fauna and culture of the area, although there is some question if he recognized the Syrian Hamster as a new species of hamster. The Syrian Hamster was officially recognized as a new species in 1839.
In 1930, a mother hamster and her pups were captured, raised and bred for use as laboratory animals in Jerusalem. Syrian Hamsters have been used extensively as laboratory animals due to their well defined behavioral characteristics and daily behavioral patterns. They were also sought after for having a high genetic instance of cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart, which has been used in studies.
It's believed that all domestic Syrian Hamsters descended from the mother and her litter captured in the 1930's, and genetic tests on domestic hamsters have indicated that the strain all can be traced back to that single mother hamster. Descendants from that first litter went to Britan in 1931, and it's believed that private breeders of Syrian Hamsters started obtaining them in 1937.
Just The Facts - Syrians in a Nutshell
Syrian Hamsters live on average for 2-3 years, and reach adult size at 5-7 inches in body length with females being larger on average. Domesticated Syrian Hamsters generally display nocturnal (awake at night, sleeping during the day) or crepuscular (awake around dawn and twilight, sleeping during the day and night) behavior, and are moderately adaptive to the schedule of their human family. Syrian Hamsters are omnivores, and their teeth grow throughout their entire lives. Syrian Hamsters can be fiercely territorial and need to be housed alone.
Female Hamsters come into heat every 4 days and generally have a 16-18 day gestation period. While the average litter is about 8 hamsters, litters of over 20 have been reported, with litters over 15 not being uncommon in some strains.
A Syrian Hamster by Any Other Name...
Syrian Hamsters are often labeled with different names, although these names refer to different colorations and coat types rather then a different species of hamster. Some common names are:
Teddy Bear Hamster (Or Teddy Hamster): Often used to refer to a long haired syrian hamster
Golden Hamster: Many 'Agouti' or wild colored hamsters get the label of "Golden Hamster"
Black Bear Hamster: Many hamsters that are primarily black will get the label of being a "Black Bear Hamster"
Panda Hamster: A Panda Hamster often refers to any Syrian that is black and white
Mislabeled Hamsters: What kind of hamster is that?
There are several misleading labels that people will place on hamsters that are not technically correct, including:
European Black Bear Hamster: European Black Bear Hamsters are not domestic animals, and are actually wild hamsters. They have a wild agouti color similar to a golden hamster, but have black bellies. An actual European Black Bear Hamster is the size of a guinea pig. The name European Black Bear was applied to the black color mutation of Syrian Hamsters that were originally imported from Europe. Unless you know that your hamster was imported or it's the size of the guinea pig, chances are it's a regular Black Syrian Hamster and not a European one.
Mini Golden Hamster: There is no such thing as a mini syrian hamster, although some hamsters may not mature to be as large as other hamsters. Beware of anyone trying to sell you a mini-hamster, as animals that are malnourished will also not grow as large or live as long as a healthy animal.
Alien Hamster: Not from outspace at all, this label has fallen on the rare hairless syrian hamster. This label has also been used to misrepresent hamsters with eye conditions that cause their eyes to bulge unusually, and there has been mention of pet stores advertising hamsters with glaucoma as 'alien hamsters'.
Solitary Syrians - The Lonely Hamster & Other Myths
Syrian hamsters in the wild have been shown to be fiercely territorial, attacking and driving out other intruding hamsters and animals from their burrows and the surrounding areas. Given the nature of these hamsters, they should not be housed with other syrian hamsters once they have reached eight weeks of age. While there are the odd cases of Syrian hamsters living peacefully together into adulthood, this is far more the exception then the rule.
In the wild, Syrian Hamsters build their burrows away from other hamsters, and do not seek the company of other Syrians. Most of the time, Syrians housed together will begin to fight around 8-10 weeks of age, with the severity of each fight increasing as they grow older. This can quickly result in the death of a hamster overnight, as most fights will occur at night when the hamsters are most active.
Don't worry that your hamster might get lonely without the company of another hamster. They will be much happier and safer with their human companions, as well as a good habitat and plenty of toys.