Golden hamster

Mesocricetus auratus




Mesocricetus auratus (Waterhouse, 1839), Aleppo, Syria.


English: Syrian hamster; Syrian golden hamster.


Medium sized, about 6-7 in (15-18 cm) long, stubby white or pink tail is 1.2 cm (0.5 in); weight 3-4 oz (90-120 g), with females larger than males. Fur is light reddish brown to golden with white or cream-colored underparts; domesticated animals have been bred for a wide variety of colors, patterns, and fur textures. Cheek pouches are very large, extending back behind the shoulders. Females have 12-17 nipples. Life span is 2-3 years.


Although some accounts assert that this species is extinct in the wild, it may in fact be locally common; specimens were collected in the Mount Aleppo region, in northwestern Syria in 1999; other specimens were sighted near Jarablus in Syria in 1986 and near Gaziantep in Turkey, mostly recently in 1999.


Historically, this hamster's native habitat has been described as dry, rocky steppe or brushy slopes. The wild population discovered in 1999 was living in agricultural fields planted with annual crops including barley, chickpeas, lentil, melons, tomatoes, and others; hamsters were most often found on plots of legumes. Burrows were also found on the embankments around irrigation wells; all of the burrows were in sandy clay soil overlaying limestone bedrock.


Though mostly nocturnal, golden hamsters are sometimes active in daytime. Burrow depths measured on the 1999 expedition ranged from 14 to 41.3 in (36 to 106 cm), averaging about 25.4 in (65 cm). Burrow entrances averaged 1.6-2.0 in (4-5 cm) in diameter and led to vertical entrance tunnels. Occupied burrows had their entrances plugged with lumps of earth slightly below the soil surface. Nest chambers ranged from 2.9-7.8 in (10-20 cm) wide; the spherical nests were made of dry plant materials. In contrast to black-bellied hamster burrows, which are complex and often have more than 10 branches, a golden hamster's burrow is relatively simple, with few side tunnels. This species reserves a blind-end tunnel for urination but defecates throughout the burrow. They are thought to hibernate in winter from November to February, although the hibernation state is not total. In the lab, hibernation can be induced at temperatures below 46°F (8°C). Predators are uncommon in the are where these hamsters occur (because of the dense human population) but in 1999 hamster remains were found in a barn owl pellet.


Although lab diets have been carefully worked out, very little is known about how these hamsters live in the wild.


In the wild the breeding season is thought to begin in February (lab animals breed year round). Males and females meet only to breed and the males do not assist in rearing the young. The female's estrous cycle is four days long and estrus lasts 27.4 hours. After conception the gestation period is usually 16 (but sometimes up to 19) days. The litter size can range from one to 16 pups; litters of six to nine are typical. The pups are blind and hairless at birth and typically weigh 0.07-0.1 oz (2-3 g); they grow quickly, are weaned by 20 days, and are sexually mature and ready to breed at 7-8 weeks old. If she feels threatened, the mother may transport her young in her cheek pouches (this occurs only during their first three days of life).


This species is listed as Endangered.


Among endangered species, golden hamsters are unusual in that humans may have helped to prevent the species from becoming extinct by taking animals from the wild to use in biomedical research. The story begins in 1930, when four juvenile animals were taken from a burrow in a Syrian wheat field in 1930 and brought to the Microbiological Institute of Jerusalem, with the goal of using them instead of Chinese hamsters, which had failed to breed in captivity in a study of the disease Leishmaniasis. The golden hamsters reproduced very well in captivity; their descendents, along with the descendents of another 12 animals collected in 1971, have been distributed to research institutions all over the world. Although as of 2003, eight hamster species are used in research, golden hamsters are by far the most the most common experimental subject; in addition, they are the most popular of all the hamster species kept as pets. Escaped pets have established wild populations in some locations in the British Isles.

Despite their endangered status, in Syria the remnant wild populations are still considered as pests and trapped or poi soned using rodenticides provided by the government. Farming practices are another problem. In May and June fields are harvested, then burned or ploughed under; meanwhile sheep are turned out to graze in any remaining fields. At this time it may be hard of hamsters to find cover, nutrition, or the extra food they need to store for the winter. ♦

Common name / Scientific name/ Other common names

Physical characteristics

Habitat and behavior



Conservation status

Mongolian hamster Allocrlcetulus curtatus German: Mongolische Zwerghamster; Spanish: Hámster enano de Mongolia

Eversmann's hamster Allocrlcetulus eversmannl German: Eversmann-Zwerghamster; Spanish: Hámster enano de Eversmann

Greater long-tailed hamster Tscherskia triton German: Zwerghamster; Spanish: Hámster-rata enano

Gray dwarf hamster Cricetulus migratorius German: Graue Zwerghamster; Spanish: Hámster armeno

Striped dwarf hamster Cricetulus barabensis German: Daurischer Zwerghamster; Spanish: Hámster listrado chines

Brandt's hamster Mesocrlcetus brandtl English: Turkish hamster

Dzhungarian hamster Phodopussungorus German: Zwerghamstern; Spanish: Hámster ruso

Back is yellowish gray, belly Is off-white. Lacks typical pectoral spot, young are completely gray, later turning grayish yellow. Head and body length 4.3-5.9 in (11-15 cm).

Upperparts dark brown or reddish sand, underparts are gray or white. There is a brownish gray or reddish brown spot on the chest. Small eyes, ears, and limbs. Head and body length 5.9-7.4 in (1519 cm).

Back is dark brown, belly is off-white to gray. Dark ears, sometimes with white edges. Extended snout. Head and body length 7-9.8 in (18-25 cm), tail length 2.7-3.9 in (7-10 cm).

Fur is long, mouse gray in color. May be reddish or buffy. Underparts are light gray or white. Robust body, blunt muzzle, short legs and tail, large internal cheek pouches. Head and body length 3.1-9.8 in (8-25 cm), tail length 0.9-4 in (2.510.6 cm).

Dry steppes, forests, fields, and gardens.

Desert or steppe habitats, as well as cultivated areas in the vicinity of the Caspian Sea and south of the region.

Fur is long, mouse gray in color. May be reddish or buff. Underparts are light gray or white. Dark brown dorsal stripe. Robust body, blunt muzzle, short legs and tail, large internal cheek pouches. Head and body length 3-10 in (8-25 cm), tail length 0.9-4.1 in (2.5-10.6 cm)

Upperparts are light reddish brown, underparts are white or creamy. Skin is loose, enormous cheek pouches. Head and body length 6.6-7 in (17-18 cm), tail length 0.4 in (1.2 cm).

Thick body, short tail, cheek pouches. Grayish or pinkish buff. Dorsal stripe runs along length of body. Underparts and muzzle, upper lips, limbs, and tail are white. Tail and feet are covered with hair. Head and body length 2-4 in (5.3-10.2 cm), tail length 0.2-0.4 in (0.7-1.1 cm).

Steppes of Mongolia north of the Altai and eastwards to Inner Mongolia.

Northern Kazakhstan steppes from Volga River to the upper Irtysh at Zaysan.

Cereals and various seeds of wild plants.

Cereals and fruits, as well as insects, spiders, and snails.

Humid zones, fens, valleys, as well as forests full of hazel trees at low elevations. Breeding season from May to October. Four to five litters per year, averaging seven young per litter.

Open dry country, such as steppes and the borders of deserts. In Afghanistan, occurs at 1,310-11,810 ft (400-3,600 m) on rocky slopes and plateaus almost devoid of vegetation. Nocturnal in winter, diurnal in summer. Live in burrows. Extremely aggressive.

Open dry country, such as steppes and the borders of deserts. Nocturnal in winter diurnal in summer. Live in burrows. Extremely aggressive.

Dry, rocky steppes or brushy slopes. Nocturnal. Maximum of two litters per year.

Semi-arid areas, usually grassy plains, sand dunes, or wormwood steppes. Solitary, except for breeding. Nests are built in burrows.

Not threatened

Not threatened

Northeastern China from Shaanxi to southeastern Manchuria (Heilongjiang) and south to Anhui, Korea, and north to upper Ussuri in Russia.

Southern European Russia and southeastern Europe (Greece, Romania, Bulgaria) through Kazakhstan to southern Mongolia and northern China (Xinjiang, Ningxia; Qin), north nearly to Moscow, south to Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey.

Steppes of southern Siberia from River Irtysh to Ussuri region, and south to Mongolia, northern China (Xinjiang through Nei Mongol), and Korea.

Anatolian Turkey, south into Israel, Lebanon, Syria, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, northern Transcaucasia, and Kurdistan.

Eastern Kazakhstan and southwestern Siberia.

Cereals, such as wheat, oats, barley, and maize, as well as cherries, nuts, and acorns.

Young shoots and seeds.

Not threatened

Lower Risk/Near Threatened

Young shoots and seeds. Not threatened

Green vegetation, meat, seeds, and fruit.

Seeds and any available plant matter.

Not threatened

Not threatened

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