Hamsters: From the Wild to your Bedroom

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You might think of them as a little puff ball, but the black bellied hamster is very different from the hamster you have as a pet. Luckily these hamsters can defend themselves because these critters are fighting the courageous battle for survival. In France, only 500 to 1,000 remain in the wild!

So Where Did Your Pet Hamster Come From?

One of the most popular species of pet hamsters in North America and Western Europe is the Syrian, or golden hamster, which was discovered in the wild in 1797. So how did this hamster get from the Middle East all the way to your home? During a 1930 expedition to look for these golden hamsters, zoologist Israel Aharoni and local Sheikh El-Beled uncovered a golden hamster and her 11 young living 8 feet (2.4 meters) below a wheat field.

Aharoni brought the hamsters back to Jerusalem. The hamsters quickly multiplied, soon finding their way into universities, zoos, and eventually homes around the world.

Hamsters Close-Up

There are over 20 species of hamsters, which are related to voles, lemmings, and mice. Only five species are common as pets. Wild hamsters are found throughout much of Europe and Asia. All hamsters are nocturnal, or active at night. They have terrible eyesight but their senses of smell and touch, as well as their whiskers, help them navigate. Take a look at how the black-bellied hamster compares to a common pet hamster.

Golden hamster (aka Syrian hamster)

Mesocricetus auratus

  • Common as pets
  • Limited number lives in the wild in Syria
  • Around 6 inches (15 centimeters) long

Black-bellied hamster

Cricetus cricetus

  • Can’t be tamed
  • Lives in the wild in Europe, from Belgium to Siberia
  • Around 12 inches (30 centimeters) long, making it the largest hamster
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