Syrian Hamster (Mesocricetus auratus)
|The Syrian Hamster is the most common type of hamster kept as a pet. Alexander is a long-haired Syrian hamster, and has gradually changed from gray all over to a golden color. The long-haired male hamsters are often referred to as Teddy Bear hamsters, thus their appeal as pets. Generally a docile and calm pet, the Syrian hamster is an excellent choice for small children, but only one animal should be kept in a cage.|
Popularity of the Syrian hamster began when a new animal model was needed for laboratory research. Parasitologist Saul Alder, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, discovered the Chinese hamster worked well as an animal model for his research, but he was unsuccessful in breeding the animals. Wanting another hamster to work with, he decided on the Syrian as it was native to the Middle East. He was successful in breeding the hamsters and continued his research. Alder traveled to England in 1931 and smuggled the first Syrians into the country, literally in his pockets. 1938 would see the introduction of these hamsters to the United States. From these few "smuggled" animals, the populations we have today of Syrians originated.
Syrian hamsters are extremely territorial and will kill another hamster if it enters its territory. Each hamster should be kept separate in captivity after about 8 weeks of age. All hamsters are nocturnal, and if in captivity with an exercise wheel, a hamster can run up to 8 miles a night. If trying to breed Syrian hamsters, the female should not be kept in the same cage as the male for more than a few hours, for the females are the larger sex and may kill the male. Once a female has produced a litter, she should be left alone with the babies. If the babies are handled, she will kill them. Instinctively, if there is a food or water shortage, she will also kill the litter to ensure her own survival.
Female Syrian hamsters are able to reproduce as young as 3 weeks of age, but should not be allowed to breed until at least 4 months of age to avoid any complications. A female can safely breed again after 3-4 months, and will turn sterile at around 12 months of age. The average female will have 2 litters during her lifetime. On the other hand, a male Syrian can breed throughout his entire lifetime, but should not encounter a female until he is about 3 months old, for the female may kill him.
The gestation period is 16 days long, but it is not rare for birth to occur up to 18 days after mating. In order to ensure the health of the female and the babies, a supplemented diet full of protein is recommended. Approximately two days before the expected birth, the female should be placed in a clean cage and be left alone as handling may cause her stress. The birth is most likely to occur at night, and each baby should be born in 10 minute intervals. A placenta for each baby will be eaten by the female, and she will move her babies to her nest in the cage. Each baby weighs less than 3 grams, is blind, and the skin is transparent. Again, the babies should not be disturbed or handled, as the mother will kill the whole litter.
Some practices of the mother Syrians may seem unusual, but "mother knows best." If for some reason she feels she has too many babies, she will kill the females first, ensuring that the greatest number of males are given the chance to live. At 14-16 days old the babies are safe to handle in order to clean the cage. They should be covered with fur and have opened their eyes by this time. By three weeks old the babies are weaned and should be provided with soft, high protein foods. The babies should be in single-sex cages, but with their brothers or sisters. However, after 8 weeks of age, all hamsters should be kept apart from one another.
Syrian hamsters were originally golden in color, hence the common name Golden Hamster. However, after much breeding, the hamsters come in an incredibly large array of colors, patterns, and coat types. Alexander is long-haired, which means he has tufts of hair behind his head and around his tail (called a "skirt"). When he was a baby he was totally gray, but around 4 months old he began turning golden. At this time, for which he is approximately 1 year old, he seems to have stopped any color change and remains gray on his upper body (head and front legs) and golden with small gray spots on the remainder of his body.
Christine M Bell, McDaniel Ecology 2003