Just looking at your pet hamster can tell you quite a bit about the characteristics of him. First, look at those soulful large eyes. Gorgeous, aren’t they? While the eyes may be the mirror of the soul, in the case of the hamster, it’s the mirror of the hours that he keeps. You can tell merely by the large size of the eyes that your hamster is a nocturnal animal. He’s an animal that’s awake at night and sleeps during the day.
And no wonder. His origins are from the desert, His ancestors – and contemporary cousins – prowl the arid range at night, when the temperatures are cooler. During the day, they sleep (much like your teenage children!)
Next examine the hamster’s ears. Positioned high on the rodent’s head, these ears are indicative of an animal who possesses a keen sense of hearing. They’re positioned high on the head to take advantage of that very trait. After all, he needed this for protection from various predators in the wild.
Check out those cute whiskers! They’re more than just an attractive appendage. Whiskers perform a very valuable task. They’re essentially the way that the hamster touches his world. That’s right! The hamster uses these whiskers – called vibrissae in the zoological world – to guide them along. And his face isn’t the only place you can find whiskers. He also has these valuable tools on the sides of his body.The average hamster relies quite heavily on the whiskers to help him from falling off or bumping into objects.And because a hamster’s eyesight isn’t remarkably clear, these whiskers help him during the day as well as at night when he’s tunneling and its virtually impossible to see because of the dark.
Hamster sense of smell
That could very well be the mantra of your pet dwarf hamster. Perhaps he can’t see very well, but he’s honed his sense of smell quite well, thank you very much. Hamsters, in fact, depend on their sense of smell to lead to not only food, but water as well (I bet that’s something you can’t do, find water by smell alone – and chlorinated water doesn’t count!)
Their nose also warns them of impending danger. It helps to identify other animals, helps them find their way back home and believe it or not, it also helps to tell them the right time to breed. In more ways than one, a hamster’s very survival depends on it sense of smell.
Hamster scent glands
And while we like to credit his nose for his incredible power, the truth of the matter is that the hamster has scent glands on other parts of his body. These scent glands produce a musk-like fluid, which is primarily used to attract the opposite sex. It’s also used to mark and identify his territory and quite frankly, to recognize individual hamsters. These are called midventral scent glands.
Some species of hamsters even have a second set of scent glands located on either side of their bodies. This particular type of gland is larger on the male than the female. It’s also influenced by the sex hormones.
You can recognize these glands in the male. They’re the dark pigmented areas on the side surrounded by dark, bristly hairs. In the female, the hair around the side glands are softer. If you can’t see them right away, watch a hamster groom himself. He spends much time grooming these glands (can’t be too good looking for the opposite sex, now can you?)
You’ll discover more about his incredible sense of smell later in this site, when we explain how to orient your new pet to your presence and his new surroundings!
The Hamster’s need for speed
The scarcity of food in her natural habitat contributes to another physical trait as well: the need for speed. When you adopt your pet dwarf hamster you’ll know exactly what we mean. You’ll discover that your hamster needs exercise – and plenty of it. The stereotype of a hamster running on a wheel getting nowhere, while humorous, is extremely accurate!
In the wild, the hamster needs to travel vast distances (especially in relation to his size) in order to find enough food. Of course, this physical trait shouldn’t be much of a surprise to you. In the desert where food can be hard to come by, storing what you do find for later only makes sense from a survival standpoint.
But, unfortunately, animal behaviorists don’t know as much as they would like about the dwarf hamster’s wild relatives. Naturally a burrower, the untamed hamster spends much of her time underground. She prefers to hide in the cool recesses of tunnels, far away from the glaring sunlight.