When you see your hamster scooting around in its ball, it may be difficult to believe that it is related to a wild animal. The truth is that hamsters evolved in the wild before being domesticated and becoming the adorable little balls of fur we know and love today.
Where can you find wild hamsters?
There are 26 different species of hamsters that live in the wild, though not always in large numbers.
The Syrian hamster, also known as a teddy bear hamster, is most likely the one most of us are familiar with. There aren’t many Syrian hamsters left in the wild today, but they’re still there, along with their hamster cousins from other parts of the world. What is the origin of hamsters?
The wild hamsters of Syria
Syrian hamsters have very deep burrows to protect themselves from the heat; they can burrow as far as ten meters. A Syrian hamster requires alone time not only in your home, but also in the wild. Each hamster has its own burrow and territory, and if another hamster tries to take over their territory, they become enraged. Because of their scarcity, wild Syrian hamsters are classified as “vulnerable.”
The Campbells hamsters of Mongolia
Campbells hamsters are most active in the semi-desert lands of Mongolia in the evenings, when they emerge from their burrow to look for food. Although the temperature in their habitat can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, it drops dramatically at night, and these hardy creatures are well-furred to keep them warm. Campbells hamsters frequently take over the burrows of other rodents rather than having to dig their own. That is astute reasoning!
The Chinese wild hamsters of the east
Chinese hamsters live further east than their cousins, where the weather is more consistent and the terrain is rocky. This is why Chinese hamsters have short tails; they use their tails to provide grip when climbing.
Chinese hamsters rarely live in burrows, preferring to live in a hole just beneath the ground. Of course, this means they don’t have the same level of protection as other hamsters, and as a result, Chinese hamsters are extremely fast runners!
How were hamsters domesticated?
So we know where wild hamsters live, but how did these wild hamsters evolve into the wonderful furry friends we’ve all grown to love?
When hamsters were first captured in the wild, they were not intended to be pets; rather, they were captured to be studied in laboratories.
The first capture of wild hamsters did not go as planned. In 1930, a zoologist named Israel Aharoni traveled to Syria and discovered a Syrian, or Golden hamster, and her twelve babies.
Anyone who knows anything about hamsters nowadays knows that babies should never be handled while they are still in their mother’s care. But this was a long time ago, and we didn’t know much about hamsters.
The mother turned on one of the babies and killed it as soon as the mother and babies were disturbed. The mother was then murdered. Two of the babies were able to flee and return to the wild, and five more were able to flee when they arrived at the Hebrew Hospital in Jerusalem.
So, the original attempt at domesticating hamsters wasn’t entirely successful, but enough of the tiny creatures remained for more hamsters to be successfully bred.
Wild hamsters becoming pets
People began to notice how easy it was to breed and keep the babies bred from the original captured hamsters as they were sent around the world, and the trend of keeping them as pets began.
Hamsters gained popularity as house guests in the 1930s and 1940s, and their popularity has only grown since then.
Other breeds, such as the popular Russian dwarf hamsters, have now joined the Syrian hamster in being domesticated.
Although hamsters can still be found in the wild, many more are kept as pets around the world. It took over a century from the first discovery of hamsters by the human race for them to become an integral part of our lives, but you probably can’t imagine your life without your hamster companion.
If you want more helpful advice on looking after your hamster, including tips on food, toys, accessories and accommodation, add a comment below to let us know!
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