Hamsters are small members of the Rodentia order that make for great pets, especially for people with allergies that can’t own a cat or dog. Being small and easy to take care of, they’re also good starter pets for older children. Many hamster species are feral but there are four in particular that take easily to being domesticated.
The Syrian hamsters are perhaps one of the most popular. They’re a beefy species and can grow quite large. You can spot them in cartoons such as Disney’s Bolt and the G-Force.
The other three species, named Roborovski, Winter White, and Campbell’s Dwarf are dwarf types, which mean they’re much smaller than their Syrian family members. The Roborovski, or “Robo Dwarf”, is the smallest of the three with an average size of 2 to 4 inches long.
These furry little critters have a lot of amazing qualities that you might find interesting, whether you own one or not. Here are 15 fun facts about hamsters that you probably didn’t know about!
1. Hamsters don’t live for very long
The average hamster lifespan is very short – only about 2 to 2.5 years. Some hamsters have been known, however, to live for as long as 4 years. In human years this doesn’t seem very long, but believe it or not, 1 hamster year is actually the equivalent of 30 human years!
The good news is that hamsters live longer in captivity than they do in the wild.
2. Hamsters are blind at birth
When baby hamsters first enter this world, they are greeted by darkness. That’s right, they’re blind at birth. It can take from 1 – 2 weeks for them to have complete vision. Not only are they blind at birth, they’re hairless as well.
During the time period where the baby hamsters are adjusting to the outside world, they are taken care of by their mother in a nest prepared in advance.
3. Hamsters have huge litters
They may be small creatures, but they can have double-digit litters – up to as much as 24 babies at a time! Hamsters usually breed during the spring and summer months and can easily produce several litters per year.
Another odd and slightly bizarre behavior of mothers is their tendency to sometimes eat their young. Mother hamsters are particularly sensitive to disturbances so they may scoop up an infant in an effort to hide it in their cheek pouch. This usually works, but sometimes the mother ends up accidentally consuming the young hamster. Gruesome!
4. Hamsters are active at twilight
Hamsters are crepuscular, which means that they’re most active during the twilight hours of dusk and dawn. They mostly sleep during the daytime and come out at night to play in their cage or run on their wheel.
In the wild, a hamster would leave its burrow shortly before dusk to forage for food. It would return before darkness has completely fallen. This behavior would repeat itself around dawn.
5. Hamsters have bad eyesight
It seems like being blind at birth left a permanent mark on the poor hamster. While they have a great sense of smell, their eyesight in adulthood isn’t that good. They are nearsighted and colorblind.
The reason for this is wild hamsters were born in darkness and are used to living deep underground where their eyes adjusted to the blackness. Being crepuscular creatures, they normally stay below ground for most of the day; only venturing out when the sun is low in the sky.
This is one of the reasons why hamsters may sometimes bite their owners when being picked up from their cage or tank. Because they cannot see who is approaching, they easily become frightened and may activate defense mechanisms in order to escape from their perceived foe.
Multi-level cages and tanks with high ledges can also be dangerous, since the hamster may not have any idea how high up it is.
When attempting to pick up a hamster, always approach from the front and make slow and gentle movements. If it’s asleep, make sure it’s awake first before touching it.
6. Hamsters are omnivores
Contrary to popular belief, hamsters are not herbivores, but omnivores. This means that while their primary diet consists of seeds, grains, and nuts, they also enjoy partaking in the occasional meaty dish made of lizards, small frogs, and insects.
They can also eat vegetables and fruits to a lesser extent, as these provide nutrients and vitamins.
7. Hamsters have backpacks in their cheeks
A unique feature that hamsters possess is the pouches inside their cheeks that extend up to the shoulders. When full, the pouches can cause the hamster’s head to double or even triple in size.
These are used when they leave their burrows to gather food. They’ll stuff these pouches full of food to keep it safe during transportation back home. Hamsters love to hoard food in their burrows and will oftentimes gather much more food than they actually need.
They aren’t the only animals with cheek pouches, though. Other mammals that have cheek pouches are the platypus, marsupial koala, chipmunks, most monkeys, and other rodents.
8. Hamsters won’t overfeed
One good thing about hamsters as pets is that they won’t overfeed. They’ll never eat more than their capacity. You can feel free to refill their food bowl throughout the day as many times as you want.
Just make sure to keep the bowl and cage or tank clean and if you’re feeding the hamster fruits or vegetables, remove and dispose of the leftovers as soon as possible. Rotting food can expose the hamster to diseases and cause the living area to have a foul smell.
9. Hamsters love to participate in marathons
It wouldn’t be a regular night without you suddenly waking up to a scurrying sound emanating from the hamster’s cage. Hamsters love working out and competing in world-class marathons.
The Roborovski dwarf hamster is well known for being the most energetic runner of all the hamster species; scampering the distance of four human marathons every day.
A running wheel is a necessity for any pet owner that plans on caring for a hamster. Another mechanism that allows hammy to get out and about while still getting its exercise is a hamster ball. This clear plastic globe lets a hamster actually move around while the rodent continues to backpedal like there’s no tomorrow.
10. Hamsters can’t eat certain foods
There are certain foods that hamsters absolutely may not indulge in. These include caffeinated products and anything with alcohol in it. These products can cause health problems to arise such as stomach irritation, diarrhea, and even death.
Other foods that you shouldn’t feed your hamster are chocolates and candies, junk food, almonds, onions, garlic, and peppers. All citrus fruits must be avoided, as their high acidic content can be too much for a hamster’s stomach to handle.
11. Hamsters enjoy eating fruits and vegetables
Unlike dogs and cats, hamsters can actually eat veggies and fruits – and enjoy doing so! Some of their favorites are bananas, strawberries, carrots, or lettuce.
Just make sure that these foods are enjoyed in moderation, as a pet hamster only needs about 6 – 15 percent fiber in its diet. Protein should account for about 17 – 19 percent while fat needs are at 4 – 7 percent.
12. Hamsters’ incisors never stop growing
Here’s something you probably never would have guessed. Have you ever seen a hamster chewing maniacally on an object and wondered what compelled it to do so in such a manner?
Well, the reason is that the incisors (front teeth) of a hamster never stop growing! This is why they chew on wood, paper, cardboard, and anything they can get ahold of. Chewing keeps their teeth filed down and allows them to move their mouths properly.
13. Hamsters were first discovered in the desert
The first types of hamsters that became introduced to humans as pets were the ones discovered in the wild and windy deserts of Syria. These, of course, came to be known as Syrian hamsters after they were brought over to the United States in 1936. They became the first domesticated hamsters.
Besides Syria, wild hamsters are also found in many other European and Asian countries including Greece, Romania, Belgium, and China.
14. Hamsters like sleeping in enclosed spaces
Hamsters, along with most other members of their rodent family enjoy a life of solitude; preferring to hole up in enclosed spaces such as under a pile of papers, in a hamster house, a corner of its cage or even inside an empty toilet paper roll!
Their reason for doing this is most likely to imitate the conditions of their habitat in the wild. A feral hamster’s burrow would be tight, deep, snug, and warm.
15. Hamsters can be taught their names
It’s been found by many owners that hamsters can be taught to respond to their names. Whether they actually know what a name is and that it belongs to them is unknown. Most likely they are responding to a stimulus as a result of their training.
You can get a hamster to recognize its name by immediately saying their name after giving a treat. Make sure to speak clearly and use the same intonation consistently. Keep doing this every day for a week or two.
They should then be able to associate their name with the treat, so you can say the name without showing the treat and see if the training worked. If not, don’t give up right away as it takes some hamsters longer than others to learn the trick.