Monday, April 25, 2011
Species of the Day: Syrian Hamster
Scientific Name: Mesocricetus auratus
Size: 6 to 7 inches long
Average Life-Span: 2 1/2 to 3 years
Temperament: Nocturnal; enjoys being handled and is easily tamed, but can be nippy if disturbed during the day when it's trying to sleep. Prefers to live on its own rather than in the company of other hamsters.
Varieties: Short-haired (fancy), long-haired ("teddy bear"), rex, golden ("natural" or "wild"), piebald, banded, dominant spot, calico (tri-color or tortoiseshell), light-gray, anopthalmic white ("eyeless white" or "blind white").
The first recording of the golden, or Syrian hamster, appeared in the Natural History of Aleppo. Although Alexander Russel published the first edition in 1797, it is unknown he or his brother Patrick published and discovered the Syrian hamster. Whatever the case, the Syrian hamster was not recorded as a new species at that time, and further more, there doesn't appear to be a first recording of the Syrian hamster anywhere as a new species. George Robert Waterhouse, curator of the London Zoological Society, eventually named the Syrian (or golden hamster at the time) in the year 1839. Originally the Syrian was called Cricetus auratus, but was later changed to Mesocricetus auratus.
The majority of Syrian hamsters in captivity were captured by Israel Aharoni, a zoologist, at the request of Saul Alder, a researcher on leishmaniasis who required hamsters that would breed more readily than the Chinese hamsters he'd been working with. On April 12, 1930, Aharoni found a female Syrian hamster with 11 young. Several problems occurred with the little family, including cannibalism of one of the litter by the mother which led to the mother being destroyed by its captors. The remaining pups were hand-reared with some losses and two of the hamsters escaping. Four of the litter remained and survived into adulthood and were later successfully bred in the laboratory. The resulting hamster line was used extensively in laboratories until they were introduced into the British pet market in the 1940's.
The first British hamster club was formed in 1945. The species Mesocricetus auratus is frequently referred to as either the Syrian or golden hamster. Syrian is perhaps the more proper term as "golden" is usually used to describe one of the Syrians many coat colors (often referred to as the "natural" or "wild" coat color). Due to the length of time that the Syrian has spent as a popular pet, it has emerged with several coat colors and varieties. In the wild, Syrian hamsters live deep underground in burrows often several feet in length. Like most hamsters, the Syrian is nocturnal, and spends most of it's day sleeping. This has a lot to do with the hot climate during the day in their native Syria. Syrian hamsters are solitary animals and should not be kept together with other hamsters, the result would likely be aggression and conflicts that could result in serious injury and possibly even death of one of the hamsters. Additionally, Syrians have scent glands located on each hip, sometimes referred to as "hip spots". Like other mammals, the Syrian uses its scent glands as a means of marking their territory by rubbing these glands against vertical objects. Another use for these scent glands is to let other hamsters know that the resident hamster is ready to mate. Occasionally the glands will secret a sticky substance, which is more prominent on the males; this is normal and should not be any cause for alarm. On rare occasions, however, these glands may become blocked, creating a sore and inflamed area. Should this happen, the hamster will need to be taken to a veterinarian familiar with hamsters immediately.