A LITTLE HAMSTER HISTORY:
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 to 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.
To see more photos of the various coat types available on Syrian hamsters please also check out our varieties page.
Although there are well over 40 various colors of Syrian hamsters there are only three types of coats: SHORT HAIR: Sometimes referred to as “Fancy” LONG HAIR: Often referred to as “Teddy Bear Hamster”. With long hairs the male’s hair is longer than that of the female. REX: 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.
Long vs Short haired: On the left is a short haired Golden, on the right a Yellow Banded Satin, both are Syrian hamsters.
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.
PIEBALD: 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.
BANDED: 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)
DOMINANT SPOT: 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)
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 effects.
The Anophthalmic 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 Anophthalmic Whites). If two hamsters carrying the Anophthalmic 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 veterinarian.