Where Does the Hamster Come From?

Large Hamster Eating out of Orange Bowl

The hamster is a cute a little critter that seems content to run on its wheel as a domesticated companion. But did you know hamsters didn’t start out as every child’s dream pet?

Let’s dig into the  past of this beady-eyed, big-eared rodent. It truly is a fascinating tail.

Angry Looking Hamster in Cage

A Historical Nuisance:

Believe it or not, despite the many varieties that hamsters are now available in, they all stem from one lineage; the Syrian hamster.

Also known as the “Golden Hamster” this small rodent lived abundantly in the wilds of Syria.

However, they were not considered cute cuddly pets, but rather nuisances that needed to be eradicated. This was due to the rodent’s ability to dig up the root vegetables that were farmed in the area.

To keep the hamster population in check, the local farmers trained their dogs to hunt and kill the small rodent.

In addition, poachers were seeking out colonies of hamsters for their fur. By the late 1920s, hamsters were considered to be extinct.

Chubby Hamster eating Cheese

A Family Affair:

Luckily, one zoologist by the name of Israel Aharoni began an expedition in 1930 to search for any signs of the Golden Hamster.

He and a local Sheikh (El-Beled) uncovered a Golden Hamster and her 11 babies located a whopping 8 feet below the surface of a wheat field.

Aharoni quickly put the mom and her young in a box, thinking all would be well. Unfortunately, when mother hamsters perceive danger, they begin to cannibalize the young.

This forced the zoologist to separate the young and hand raise them back at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Although a few managed to escape when they reached adulthood, the zoologist was left with a brother/sister breeding pair.

From here, future litters made their way into universities, zoos, and eventually homes around the world.

The Black-Bellied Hamster Fighting for Survival:

This beautiful hamster with its black belly and chest is one that will never be seen in the pet trade, as it is not tamable.

It is the largest hamster known, measuring in at 12 inches long and lives in the wilds of Europe, from Belgium to Siberia.

Black Bellied Hamster European Hamster

It is an aggressive rodent that will defend itself against predators. This is a good thing, since in France there are only about 500 to 1,000 remaining in the wild today!

Wild Hamsters of Today:

With their loss of habitat and an abundance of predators, hamsters around the world are having trouble sustaining their underground colonies.

The Syrian hamster that we mentioned earlier is listed as “vulnerable” in its native habitat.

The Campbell’s hamster that lives in Mongolia has to tend with the scorching heat of the desert region, which can reach up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, then drop to extreme lows at night.

However, this industrious little rodent will take over the abandoned burrows of other hamsters to save itself all the digging.

Originating from northern China and Mongolia, the Chinese hamster doesn’t live underground as their habitat is extremely rocky, so they must settle in a hole just under the ground.

For this reason, the Chinese hamster has developed quick running skills, so it can outrun its predators.

Quick Hamster Facts:

Hamsters are fun and interesting pets, so we’ve collected some fun facts for you to “stuff your face” with.

  • Hamsters have extra stretchy skin on their cheeks. This allows them to transport food back to their burrow.
  • Teddy Bear hamsters have long fur that flows to the ground, so it requires brushing.
  • The hamster eats seeds, nuts, various fruits and some insects.
  • All hamsters are nocturnal which means they sleep all day and are up all night.
  • Hamsters have a short lifespan and most only live to around 3 years-old.
  • There is around 25 different species of the hamster, but all can trace their roots back to the brother/sister pair from Syria.

Hamsters Are Fun!

Hamsters make the perfect pet for anyone wanting a low-maintenance, yet fun critter to call their own.

Check your local pet retailers, a breeder or a rescue group when you’re searching for your perfect hamster companion.

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