Sunday, January 24, 2010

HAMSTERS

Thank you guys for caring about what happened to my lost hamsters! They are so sweet. I thought I'd tell you a little about them.

It all started when Cait said that I should get some little animals to keep me company while I was sick on disability. She didn't yet know about Wesley, but I used it as an excuse to get 3 hamsters. Actually, I got one, and he seemed so upset that I went back and got his 2 cagemates at the pet store.

Syrian, or Teddy Bear, hamsters cannot live together as adults, but as babies they can, of course. So these guys weren't full grown. NEVER keep Teddy Bear, Golden, or Syrian hamsters together! They will fight when you're not looking and eventually one of them will be killed.

They were discovered by Europeans in Syria by an archeologist in 1930 and brought back to England in 1933 with the idea that they'd be good lab animals, unfortunately, because they are THE fastest breeders of all mammals. Even more than mice or rabbits! Their gestation period is about 18 days and they can have around 18 babies per litter! I've had a hamster have that many! Last year one of my sweet mamas had 12 and she took excellent care of them all. They are my main hamsters now and Kissy is descended from one of them.

I have averaged 40-50 hamsters, all in separate cages, for the last 10 years. They only live about 2 years, but I've had hammies live up to 5 years. I supplement their food with some really good stuff like colostrum and super green food. In fact, the father of the 12 was 5 years old when he produced them! It was his parting shot, so to speak, and I was so proud of him! (His name was Tommy).

They're ground squirrels, actually, and they live in elaborate burrows 8 feet underground, which may be why it took so long for Europeans to notice them! They're nocturnal and run up to 5 miles a night foraging for food. Their cheeks act like shopping bags and it's amazing how much they can fit into those cheek pouches. They collect and store food all night, every night, unless they're caring for babies or mating. They also build separate rooms for each function. They literally have a room for peepee, which translates in captivity to only peeing in one designated corner of their cage. That's VERY handy for easily cleaning out the cage between major cleanings.

They're fastidiously clean and their fur smells like light talcum powder - sweet and fresh. They would only smell bad if they were kept in a stinky environment, and they hate that.

They build a beautiful, cushy nest for themselves that completely surrounds them when they sleep. I make strips of unscented kleenex for them to build nests with and give them hamster igloos or empty square kleenex boxes w/ the plastic taken out. They have a need to be able to hide during the day and remain undisturbed.

YES! They hoard food in amazing proportions! In 2 years, a wild Syrian hamster can hoard up to a ton of food. They have separate rooms built just for food storage, and will even sort food. For example, Kissy had a huge pile in the back of the closet - about 8 pounds, and I found a separate one of just sunflower seeds and split peas in the master bedroom shower (which I don't use because the master bedroom is the hamstery and the master bathroom is the hamster clinic). Maybe the male put in that pile of food?

I was throwing food all over the floor every day, hoping they'd find and eat it.

in the wild, they go through their stores and get rid of any bad or moldy food, keeping their storage area fresh. They also get rid of any bugs that may try to intrude.

They are amazing mothers, even though, yes, they will sometimes eat their babies. There's a REASON for this behavior, if you really think about it. When they feel threatened, they kill and eat the babies for several reasons:
The babies give them away with their sounds and smells
If the hamster has to run from danger, leaving the babies to slowly starve is worse than killing them with one quick strike
If a baby dies, the hamster must eat it or it will decay, infecting the entire nest
If a baby dies, the mother, who is desperate for protein as she must make milk for up to 18 other growing bodies, recycles the protein into the other babies or into herself by eating what is already dead
The smell of decaying flesh would draw predators in from everywhere and kill the mother and any remaining babies.

HOWEVER! If she is not nervous or threatened, she is an AMAZING mother. She does not WANT to have to do those awful survival behaviors and will become very upset if she ends up feeling that she has to. I've seen them inconsolable if they kill their babies.

Anyway, here are some examples of the wonderful mothers I've had:
I woke up one night to what sounded like a miniature human baby crying its lungs out. I turned on the light and saw a baby hamster who had somehow gotten just outside the bars of the cage and could not find its way back in. It was still naked and blind. The mother was on the other side of the bars desperately trying to help the baby get back inside by reaching out w/ her paws and trying to gently pull the baby inside, and gently using her teeth to try to help him. I got up and got the baby and returned him to the nest. The mother was so nurturing and pulled the baby under her tummy to warm up and drink, and I fixed the cage so that no baby could get out of the bars by lining the bottom half of the cage w/ cardboard going up about 6 inches from the bottom. That fixed it.

I've also had mother hamsters take in other babies with no questions asked, so to speak. Just a lick and a grunt and she noses the baby right in with the rest. But I usually take precautions when fostering by putting baby lotion on my hands and rubbing it in, ,then holding each baby, the mother's babies and the foster babies, and then holding the mother to get that smell all over her, too, so she's confused as to which babies are hers and which are fosters. She knows her babies by smell so I confuse the smell issue and that usually helps.

But I have had some real champion mothers who would foster any babies.

for that reason, if I do breed, I breed whoever I'm going to breed all at once, so that they all have the same aged babies, so that if I get a nervous and confused mother, I can foster her babies to a more experienced mother before she hurts them.

The hamsters are total individuals. In ALL the hamsters I've had over the years, I've never seen a single cage or nest made the same way by any hamster! They have their own strong ideas about things and how they want things done.

Some are very tame and social, others are super shy. Some insist on affection from me and others have to be tamed and gentled. Some learn words and know their names and even come when called! Kissy obviously doesn't come when called! haha.

Syrian hamsters are becoming more and more popular w/ adults who live in apartments or places that don't allow dogs and cats. A lot of landlords allow a small animal in a cage or aquarium. They're great animals!

Wesley accepted them and never saw them as prey because they were too big, so he enjoyed watching them as if they were "owl reality TV" and they were there just for his own entertainment! He sounded the alarm when one of them didn't obey the "rules", meaning if one got loose.

2 comments:

Ter-o-fla said...

This was a very interesting read! Thank you!
I greatly enjoy the way you write.You have a gift for packing much information into easily digestible packages, so-to-speak. :D
-t-

Bonnie said...

This was such an enjoyable read! I agree with Ter-o-fla. Please always write when you get an itch to. It's so informative!