Hamsters are the small and furry friends that have the hearts of so many people around the world. Not only are they incredibly cute, but they make great pets; nothing beats seeing your little hamster with his cheeks stuffed full. But, besides being adorable, did you know they have a lot of really cool things about them that not a lot of people know?
Read on to find out 10 fun facts about hamsters.
- Hamsters are crepuscular!
If you’ve ever seen your hamster hide from your morning alarm, it’s for a good reason! Hamsters are actually crepuscular creatures, meaning they like to rest during the day and night, but become more active at dawn and dusk.
From an evolutionary perspective, crepuscular animals became active at dawn and dusk for one main reason: to avoid predators. In areas of the world that are hot, dawn and dusk also provide relief from the heat. Although your pet hamster doesn’t necessarily need to cool down or hide from something scary, you’ll still see them active at these times.
- Hamsters are born with a full set of teeth.
When humans (and many other animals) are born, we have absolutely no teeth. It’s why we start out with our main food source being a liquid because we can’t actually eat anything else. Hamsters, unlike humans, are born with an entire set of teeth. In total, hamsters have 16 teeth, 4 incisors (the big ones at the front) and 12 molars from the day they’re born.
Despite being born with a full mouth of teeth, baby hamsters can’t actually open their ears or eyes for at least 7 days! They’re also born completely hairless, and no matter what colour you think your hamster will be, they all start out pink.
- Hamsters’ teeth never stop growing.
The four, large incisors that are so characteristic of hamsters have a special feature — they never stop growing! To keep your hamster’ long incisors in check, giving them toys and treats to gnaw on is ideal. Chew toys, sticks, and other harder treats act as a natural nail file, keeping your pet hamster’s teeth in good health.
If a hamster’s teeth are left to grow too long without any maintenance from chew toys and treats, they can actually curve onto themselves and stick out of your hamster’s mouth. This can be very painful for your little pal, so keep an eye out!
- There are over 20 species of hamsters!
You may believe that all hamsters look the same: small, grey or brown, a little round, and very soft. What you’re probably thinking of is the Dwarf hamster or the Syrian hamster, which are both common household species. You might also see Campbell’s hamsters or Roborovski’s hamsters at your local pet store, but these are only a few species of over 20 in total!
In addition to our tiny pet-store friends, there are also wild hamsters! The European hamster (sometimes called a black-bellied hamster) is a wild species, bigger than most and too big of an attitude to make a good pet.
- Hamsters’ cheeks can fill to 2-3x their size.
If you’ve ever seen a pet hamster, chances are you’ve seen them with their little cheeks filled to the brim with food. Hamster cheeks have pouches called displostomes and are like pockets. Hamsters fill these displostomes to bring food back to their homes and dens — but they hold more than you might think.
Hamsters can hold up to 20% of their body weight in food inside of their cheeks. That’s like a 68 kg person stuffing almost 14kg of food into their mouth! Hamster cheeks can accomplish this incredible feat by expanding and deflating their cheeks like balloons, using their muscles to compact the food inside making room for more. Sometimes, to keep their babies safe, hamsters will also put the babies in their cheeks!
- Wild hamster burrows can reach over 2 feet deep.
You might have seen your pet hamster digging around in his cage substrate (even though you know he can’t actually get anywhere). This is a totally natural thing to do because hamsters are natural burrowers. In the wild, hamsters dig into the ground creating complex tunnel systems that they use for shelter, food storage, and protection from the weather.
Despite hamsters being quite small, their burrow systems can be huge. Hamster burrows have been found in the wild measuring over two feet deep — talk about a good hideout!
- Hamsters can run backwards.
If you’ve ever noticed your hamster going backwards on his wheel, and thought it was a little strange, not to worry — hamsters actually can run backwards! Hamsters are pretty fast runners, and can run just as fast backwards as they can forwards.
The reason for their fast backwards run iis because of the size and shape of their feet. Hamsters’ hind feet are the same shape and size as their front feet, allowing them to make running movements in both directions. This is also an important evolutionary adaptation, so hamsters can retreat into their burrows quickly if there’s a threat.
- Hamsters have bad eyesight, and are colourblind!
Although it might seem like your hamster friend is staring right at you, chances are he isn’t! Hamsters eyesight is actually very poor, and they typically an only see a few inches in front of their own nose. Because hamsters are crepuscular, their eyes have adapted to see in dim light; it’s next to impossible for them to see well in bright light!
In addition to poor eyesight, hamsters are also colourblind. However, they don’t see in black and white like you may think… they see in shades of green!
- Hamsters originated from Syria.
You may never have thought about where your little hamster friend came from, but the truth is that they were discover in the Middle East! The Syrian (or golden) hamster is one of the most popular species of hamster, and was first discovered in Syria in 1797 by an explorer.
A few hundred years later, a zoologist named Israel Aharoni found a family of hamsters on an expedition, and brought them back to Hebrew University where he studied. Before he knew it, they multiplied, and made their way into zoos, universities, and homes around the globe.
- Some hamsters are very aggressive, while others are very friendly!
Not all hamsters species have the same characteristics; some species are much friendlier and more sociable than others. If you’re looking for a hamster that is friendly towards humans, you have a lot of choice! The Syrian hamster and Russian dwarf hamster are both friendly pets and great options for a furry friend.
If you’re looking for a hamster that is good with other hamsters, you will have to be more selective. The Campbell Russian dwarf hamster and the Chinese dwarf hamster are both known to be aggressive towards other hamsters. You will have to pay extra attention to the characteristics of your breed as hamsters can fight and seriously hurt each other!
Now that you know a little bit more about these curious creatures, you might look at your tiny companion with new eyes. Although they are incredibly cute, hamsters are much more than just an adorable pet; with incredible abilities to burrow and hold food, and a fascinating origin story, there is much more than meets the eye.
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