Syrian Hamster

Syrian Hamster

Golden Hamster, Fancy Hamster, Teddy bear Hamster and Standard Hamster

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Mesocricetus auratus
Population size
Unknown
Life Span
2-4 yrs
TOP SPEED
6 km/h
WEIGHT
100-125 g
LENGTH
13-18 cm

In 1930, Professor Aharoni captured a female Syrian hamster (otherwise called Golden or Teddy bear hamster) with her twelve pups in Aleppo (Syria). Since then, this species has become a highly popular household pet throughout western states. In fact, all Syrian hamsters that are now kept as pets, originate from this single captured female. Syrian hamster is a small rodent of the Cricetinae family. According to the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association, this animal was introduced to North America in 1936 and became one of the first domesticated pet hamsters. The rodent is so called since individuals in the wild are usually colored in golden brown. Syrian hamster has cheek pouches that are used as food stores.

Distibution

The natural range of Syrian hamster is a quite small area in the Middle East, restricted to northern Syria and southern Turkey. Populations in the wild are most commonly found in fertile, agricultural and densely populated areas on Aleppinian plateau (Syria). Preferred habitats of this species are steppes, sand dunes, edges of deserts and other warm, dry areas.

Geography

Continents
Subcontinents
Countries

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

These solitary animals normally don't tolerate individuals of their kind, although they socialize during the mating season. Syrian hamsters are highly territorial, scent marking their home ranges with glands, found on their flanks. When scent marking, they simply rub their flanks against a substrate, thus leaving the scent, which can convey various types of information, even allowing to identify individuals. This species is nocturnal, the daytime hours are usually spent in burrows and the activity period begins at dusk. During the nighttime hours, these rodents forage, taking multiple trips between food sources and their burrow to carry and store the food in their dwellings. Each hamster travels as much as 8 miles per one evening to find and cache food. During the winter months, Syrian hamsters hibernate or enter a state of torpor. Captive individuals usually hibernate when the temperature drops under 8 degrees Celsius.

Group name

Diet and Nutrition

As an omnivore, Syrian hamster consumes a wide variety of food, including seeds, nuts as well as insects such as ants, flies, cockroaches and wasps.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
during long photoperiods
PREGNANCY DURATION
16 days
BABY CARRYING
8-12 pups
INDEPENDENT AGE
19-21 days
FEMALE NAME
doe
MALE NAME
buck
BABY NAME
pup

Syrian hamsters are polygynous animals, which mean that one male mates with multiple females. Breeding in this species depends on photoperiods or day length: Syrian hamsters breed when photoperiods are long. During each breeding season, females are able to produce young approximately every month. Gestation period is 16 days, yielding 8 - 12 altricial young that are born with closed eyes. The babies are cared by their mother, whereas the father usually doesn't participate in rearing the young. After producing large litters, some females may reduce the litter size by cannibalism. Females in the wild usually do it during food shortages, while those in captivity display cannibalism as a response to anthropogenic disturbance. Young hamsters open their eyes at 12 - 14 days old and are weaned at 19 - 21 days of age. The age of sexual maturity is one month old.

Population

Population threats

Population of this species in Syria is threatened by loss of its natural habitat due to development of human settlements. In February, when their burrow entrances begin to emerge, these animals are heavily trapped and poisoned throughout their range as serious pest species. During May-June, when fields are harvested, burnt and ploughed, sheep clean out remaining vegetation, leaving Syrian hamsters without cover, nutrition and winter food supply.

Population number

The IUCN Red List doesn’t provide the exact number of Syrian hamsters’ population. However, the total population may consist of fewer than 2,500 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) and its numbers are decreasing.

Ecological niche

These animals are key prey species for many local predators. Moreover, Syrian hamsters act as seed dispersers due to feeding upon various seeds and grains that are occasionally lost while storing. And finally, burrows of these rodents are used by other species, including toads.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Syrian hamsters are known to communicate aggression through teeth chattering.
  • The burrows of this animal are quite long, sometimes reaching 9 meters in length in agricultural lands.
  • These rodents can be accustomed and will respond to human voice.
  • Female hamsters are known as attentive and careful mothers. When the offspring are threatened, the female takes the babies in her cheek pouches, carrying them to a safe place.
  • Due to the poorly-developed vision, these rodents rely on their scent glands, which are located on their backs. These glands produce a characteristic odor. Syrian hamsters navigate their environment through leaving a trail of scent, which they do by rubbing their backs against various objects. This scent trail often helps them find their way when lost.
  • In order to survive throughout winter months, Syrian hamsters cache sufficient amount of food in advance. However, in course of time, a part of their cache undergoes fermentation and produces alcohol, so that it's not edible anymore. Nevertheless, these rodents are able to consume and metabolize it due to their considerably large livers. In fact, this unique ability of Syrian hamsters makes them suitable species for alcohol studies.

References

1. Syrian Hamster Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_hamster
2. Syrian Hamster on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/13219/0

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