The Omlet Blog

12 interesting facts about hamsters

Hamster popping up from tube of Qute Hamster Cage

Hamsters are captivating little companions. They may be tiny, but like their cheeks, they’re packed full of character and charisma. From hamsters in the wild, to our beloved domesticated pocket pets, here are 12 interesting facts about hamsters

1. From Syria and beyond 

Hamsters are rodents from the subfamily Cricetinae. They were brought to the United States from Syria in the 1930s, but there are wild species of hamsters that populate Europe and Asia. In fact, there are at least 26 species of hamsters all over the world, but only 5 of them are docile enough to be kept as the domesticated pets we know and love today. 

2. Some to handle, some to observe 

While there are only 5 types of hamsters that are kept as pets, they each have very different characteristics. These different species are:

  • Syrian or Golden 
  • Chinese
  • Roborovski 
  • Winter White or Russian Dwarf 
  • Campbell’s 

Some hamsters, like the Syrian, prefer to live alone, while others require a social grouping in order to thrive. Syrian hamsters and species like the Roborovski are extremely active after the sun sets – running the equivalent of a human marathon every night! Because of their tiny stature and quick strides, Roborovski hamsters aren’t ideal to handle and are best observed in their cage – but build them obstacle courses or mazes, and you can watch these pint-sized powerhouses in action. 

3. Hamsters = hoarders

Hamster comes from the German word hamstern, which means “to hoard.” This is because of the pouches in hamsters’ cheeks that enable them to carry food and supplies back to their burrow. This behavior that wild hamsters exhibit carries over into domesticated hamsters – even though it isn’t necessary for survival. You may see your hamster fervently stuffing their food bowl contents into their mouths, making their face grow two to three times larger than usual. In fact, a hamster can fit up to 20% of their body weight in their cheek pouches alone! 

Some hamsters stuff one side or the other, while others will stuff both cheeks full. Their pouches don’t have salivary glands, so the food or bedding being carried in their cheeks remains dry until being deposited at its destination. If you observe your hamster regularly, you’re likely to notice them hauling their food or bedding around their enclosure this way. 

4. Pups are like puppies 

Like canine puppies, hamsters are born with their eyes sealed shut and their ears folded down. They’re also born without fur, with teeth that have not yet erupted from their gums. Baby hamsters are called “pups”, and develop quickly. 

During the first week of age, hamster pups will begin growing their fur, and their teeth will emerge from the gum line. At 2 weeks of age, their eyes will open, followed shortly by their ears perking up around day 17 or 18. By 4 weeks old, most hamster pups are weaned, and look like miniature versions of their parents. 

5. Pets with poor eyesight 

Hamsters are color-blind, and don’t have great eyesight. Interestingly, even though they’re blind to color, they don’t see in black and white. A hamster’s eyes are made up of 97% rod cells, and just 3% cone cells, and are likely to only perceive colors on the green spectrum.

Hamsters are also very near-sighted, meaning they can’t see at a distance. This is one of the reasons why a hamster will accidentally walk off of a ledge or platform – they are unable to properly gauge distances. They can however see much better in the dark than humans, given that rod cells pull light into the retina. 

6. Scent glands to guide the way 

Since they don’t see particularly well, hamsters rely heavily on scent to find their way. They have scent glands which they rub on objects along a path, depositing pheromones much like a breadcrumb trail. Also called “sebaceous glands”, these pheromone-emitting glands are situated just over the hips of hamsters. These spots are more noticeable in males than females. 

Hamsters can leave a scent for various reasons. Different amounts of pheromones can “bookmark” a location that a hamster wants to remember, attract a mate, or act as a territorial warning. This odor is not noticeable by humans, but the glands may be visible if your hamster has flattened the hair around them while grooming themselves or as aging hamsters experience a thinning hair coat. 

7. A too-short lifespan 

Like other members of the rodent family, hamsters grow and mature quickly, and procreate efficiently, but have fairly short lifespans. Syrian hamsters live just 2-3 years in captivity  – and this life expectancy is even less in the wild. Other types of domesticated hamsters have a life expectancy of 2-4 years.

Feeding your hamster a quality diet and housing them in a well-designed hamster cage will help them live their lives to the fullest. To help them get adequate exercise, be sure to bring them out of their cage several times a week. Build mazes out of cardboard, building bricks, or other material that won’t fall over on your hamster, or let them spend time in a hamster-safe playpen. Some of the most common causes of premature death in hamsters are obesity, stress, wet tail (diarrhea) and heart disease – all of which can be mitigated through proper diet, exercise, and enclosure placement and hygiene.  

8. Tiny but mighty 

Hamsters range in size from the largest breed –  the European hamster at 8-11 inches long, to the smallest – the Roborovski hamster at around 2 inches long. Of domesticated breeds, the Syrian hamster is the largest, coming in around 4 inches long – roughly double the size of a Roborovski hamster. 

They may be small, earning them the title “pocket pets”, but hamsters are mighty little animals. They have strength, stamina, and intelligence, making them one of the most entertaining small pets to observe. Running on wheels, completing mazes, climbing through tubes, and burrowing through bedding are just some of the amazing and amusing activities of pet hamsters. 

9. Ever-growing incisors 

Members of the rodent family have front teeth, called incisors, that never stop growing. In hamsters with good alignment, the incisors should wear down against each other when a hamster eats. However, some hamsters’ teeth don’t line up properly, and their incisors may become overgrown as a result. If they become too long, incisors may protrude outside of the mouth, creating sores or the inability to eat properly. To combat this issue, offer your hamster apple stick chews or other hamster-safe chew toys to help whittle their teeth down. 

10. Prolific procreators 

The heat cycle (fertile window of females) for hamsters is based on the sun. Steady warm temperatures and long daylight hours trigger the heat cycle in female hamsters. Typical breeding seasons in the wild for hamsters take place in the spring and summer, and they can produce multiple litters in each season. However, in captivity, hamsters can breed all year long since temperatures remain constant indoors, and indoor lighting gives the illusion of sunlight.

The gestation period for hamsters is just 16-22 days depending on the breed of hamster. The average litter size is 6-8 pups (babies), although litters of up to 26 pups have been recorded. 

11. Burrowing is basic  

Hamsters love to burrow. In the wild, they will make their homes in the earth by digging into the substrate. The deeper a hamster can get, the more content they will be. A deep bedding tray is essential to foster this natural behavior in domesticated hamsters. 

To help your hamster burrow to their heart’s content, choose a soft, loose bedding like recycled paper or shavings (note: shavings can get caught in the fur of long-coated hamsters). Make the bedding as deep as possible, and watch as your hamster digs themselves into contentment. 

12. A diverse diet 

Traditionally, the diet of a hamster consists of seeds, nuts, grains, and small amounts of fruits and vegetables. In the wild, hamsters may even eat insects or small lizards, but these should never be offered to domesticated hamsters. Domesticated hamsters should be fed a pelleted diet formulated for them, or those made for mice and rats. There are “trail mix” looking diet options for hamsters that contain seeds, nuts, cracked corn, and various other treats sprinkled throughout, but hamsters will inevitably pick out their favorite pieces and leave the more nutritious offerings behind. 

If you want to supplement your hamster’s diet, offer treats in small quantities and only occasionally. This will encourage them to eat their nutritious pellet feed for the majority of their diet. Some ideas for treats include: 

  • Leafy greens 
  • Apple pieces 
  • Cucumbers 
  • Seeds (such as millet or sunflower seeds) 

Discover with your hamster and Omlet 

We hope you found these hamster facts fascinating, and that it created a deeper desire to understand your small animal companion. Because hamsters are amazing animals, we’ve created amazing ways for you to bond with and care for your pocket pet. From the Qute Hamster Cage to our expertly curated hamster guide, we’re here to help you discover ways to interact with your hamster and create a truly joyous connection. 

Boy playing with his hamster in the Qute hamster cage bedding tray

This entry was posted in Hamsters

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