Did you know that Hamsters aren't only found in pet shops?

Hamster Habits

Burrowing; most hamsters live in dry places such as the edges of deserts, but the common hamster lives among crops, in ploughed fields and along river banks, often swimming. When they are not busy searching for food, hamsters are in their underground burrows.

The common and grey hamsters have short shallow burrows for use during the summer and deeper ones for the winter. Each burrow is long and branching with several entrances and a number of compartments for nesting, storing food and for 'toilets' - hamsters being very clean animals. Dwarf hamsters live alongside pikas (small relatives of rabbits and hares), and use their burrows and paths.

Common and golden hamsters are mostly nocturnal; grey hamsters may be seen by day and night during the spring and summer, but are completely nocturnal in the winter.

Hoarding; hamsters are well-known for collecting and storing food in their burrows. Food is collected in the large cheek pouches and carried back to the burrow. A hamster can stuff an amazing amount of food into its pouches and when packed full, the pouches can extend back beyond the level of the shoulder blades. The winter food stores can be enormous; one common hamster's store was found to contain 90kg of cereals, pulses, seeds and root vegetables! Chinese peasants have been known to make a living by digging up the grain stores of grey hamsters.

Hibernating; in the winter, hamsters stay in their burrows, blocking up the entrances with soil. They are not true hibernators but sleep in a grass-lined nest, waking up every five to seven days to feed from the food they stored during the autumn. While hibernating, the pulse rate of the golden hamster drops from 400 per minute to 4, and it takes a breath only twice a minute.

Breeding; hamsters are solitary animals and only come together for mating. In the wild, male common and grey hamsters visit the burrows of females and are driven out after mating. In captivity, golden hamsters have to be separated after mating, otherwise the female may kill the male. The gestation period of the common hamster is 19 - 20 days, that of the golden hamster 15 days. Some four to twelve naked and blind young are born in a nest chamber in the burrow. Their eyes open at two weeks old and by this time they have a thick coat of fur. The young hamsters are weaned quickly, at 3 - 4 weeks, and leave their mother shortly after. A mother hamster is very maternal, and, if danger threatens, she will carry her babies away, either by putting them into her cheek pouches or laying them across the toothless area of her jaws. A female hamster may have two or three litters each year.

Read More: Hamsters and Humans

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