Big Is Beautiful! (About Syrian Hamsters)
A LITTLE HAMSTER HISTORY:
If your pet hamster isn't a dwarf hamster then it's a Syrian hamster!
That's right, Teddy Bear, Fancy, Long-Haired, Golden, whatever your pet store called it they are all descended from the wild Syrian Hamster!
So let's spend a little time learning about that little big guy or gal!
The first recording of the Golden Hamster (or Syrian) appeared in the second
edition of the Natural History of Aleppo. Although Alexander Russell published the
first edition in 1797, it is unknown whether he or his brother, Patrick, published the
second edition and discovered the Syrian hamster. But what ever the case, the Syrian
hamster was not recorded as a new species at that time, and furthermore, there doesn't
appear to be an actual first recording of the Syrian hamster anywhere as a new species.
George Robert Waterhouse, curator of the London Zoological Society, eventually named the
Syrian (or Golden) hamster in the year 1839. Originally the Syrian was called Cricetus
Auratus, but later was changed to Mesocricetus Auratus.
The majority of Syrian hamsters in captivity were captured by Israel Aharoni, a
zoologist, at the request of Saul Alder, a researcher on Leishmaniasis who
required hamsters that would breed more readily than the Chinese hamsters he'd
been working with.
On April 12, 1930 Aharoni found a female Syrian hamster and
11 young. Several problems occurred with the family, including cannibalism of one
of the litter by it's mother which led to the mother being destroyed by it's captors.
The remaining pups were hand reared with some losses and two of the hamsters
escaping. Four of the litter remained however and survived until adulthood and later
successfully were bred in the laboratory. The resulting hamster line was used
extensively in laboratories until they were introduced into the British pet market in
the 1940s. The first British hamster club was formed in 1945.
The species Mesocricetus Auratus is frequently referred to as either the Golden
or the Syrian hamster. Syrian is perhaps a term that is clearer since "Golden" is
also used as a description of one of the Syrian's various coat colors (often
referred to as the "natural" or "wild" coat color). Due to the length of time that the
Syrian has been a popular pet, it has emerged with several different colors and
coat varieties. In the wild Syrian hamsters live deep underground in burrows,
often several feet in depth. Like most hamsters, the Syrian is nocturnal, and
spends most of its day sleeping. This has a lot to do with the climate in their
native Syria which is very hot during the day, and considerably cooler at night.
Syrian hamsters are solitary animals and should not be kept together when
housing, the result would likely be aggression and conflicts that could result in
serious injuries and possibly even the death of one of the hamsters.
Long vs Short haired: On the left is a short haired Golden, on the right a Yellow Banded Satin, both are Syrian hamsters.
Long haired Syrian hamsters are commonly called "Teddy Bear" hamsters, while short haired are often called "Fancy" hamsters!
Although there are well over 40 various colors of Syrian hamsters there are only
three types of coats:
Sometimes referred to as "Fancy"
Often referred to as "Teddy Bear". Within long hairs the male's hair is
typically longer than that of the female.
A white band around the middle of the
body. For show purposes the band should comprise
about one third of the full body length. Exact
markings are difficult to breed and many banded
Syrians seen in pet stores have color intermingled in
the band. Belly fur is white. (see photo at right)
As the name implies, there are
patches of white over the entire face and back, with a blaze on the forehead.
Spots will sometimes be on the ears as well. Belly fur is always white.
Note: The Calico, which is created with either the Banded
or the Dominant Spot, is sometimes referred to as the
Tri-Color and is more commonly known as the Tortoiseshell
and White within Europe. (see photo at right)
Not normally available in pet shops, the hair has the appearance of being
lifted by shorter guard hairs. Rexes also have curly whiskers.
All three coats also come in Satin, a gene that creates a glossy appearance
because the hair is thinner and doesn't have as many air-filled cells which creates
a more reflective surface.
Although there are three patterns or markings, only two are commonly used and
referred to today, those two are the Banded and the Dominant Spot.
The first spotting gene discovered in the Syrian that is sometimes
called irregular spotting. The patterns derived from piebald are haphazard and
occasionally there is some brindling.
LETHAL AND SEMI-LETHAL GENES:
Some Syrian hamsters carry what are referred to as lethal
or semi-lethal genes: A lethal gene is created when a
mutation carries a "double helping" of a particular gene.
The result will be the death of the hamster. The only lethal
genes currently known that the average pet owner might
come into contact with is the Light Grey (or Lethal Grey)
and the Dominant Spot. There are other lethal genes out
there but they are not in general circulation and most are
confined primarily to laboratories. In the event that two hamsters carrying lethal
genes are bred, approximately one quarter of the unborn pups will die before the
birth. Under normal conditions the mother's body would absorb the dead pups, if
not, it is likely that the mother will also die. Any surviving hamsters with these
genes do not generally show any adverse affects.
To see photos of the various coat types available on Syrian hamsters please
check out our .
The Anopthalmic White, also referred to as the
"eyeless white" or "blind white" carries a
semi-lethal gene. These hamsters are generally
recognized to be white bellied hamsters (the
Roan and some Black Eyed Whites are
Anopthalmic Whites). If two hamsters carrying
the Anopthalmic White gene are bred,
approximately one quarter of the litter will be
eyeless (with the eyes being either totally
non-existent or merely rudimentary).
SYRIAN SCENT GLANDS:
Sometimes referred to as "hip spots", Syrians have scent glands located on each
hip. Like other mammals, the Syrian uses its scent glands as a means of marking
their territory by rubbing these glands on vertical objects. In the wild, this is known
to other hamsters that a marked area is "taken" or "controlled" by the marking
hamster. The second use of the scent glands is to create an odor that indicates
the hamster is ready for mating. This is used by females in the wild to lure males
to their burrows. Occasionally the glands secrete a sticky substance, which is
more prominent on the males. This is normal and should not be cause for alarm.
On rare occasions however, these glands may become blocked creating a sore
and inflamed area. Should this happen to your hamster it is advisable to see a