Where Do Hamsters Live in the Wild?

A wild hamster in a sandy habitat in Syria.
A wild hamster in a sandy habitat in Syria.

A great many children growing up in places like Canada and the U.S. have had the experience of caring for a hamster, possibly even as their very first pet. But where do these lovable little creatures originally come from? Where do they live in the wild?

Hamster History

The first known wild hamsters can be traced back to countries such as Syria, Belgium, portions of northern China, Greece, and Romania. Living alone in the wilderness these small rodents made their homes in warm, dry places such as near deserts and sand dune structures.

According to the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association, hamsters transported from Syria to the U.S way back in 1936 became known as some of the first domesticated species of hamster. Interestingly the word hamster is derived from the German word “hamstern” which means to hoard. This is an apt description of the way in which these little creatures hoard food not only in their homes but also in terms of the way in which they stuff food into pouches in their cheeks.

Characteristics of Hamsters

Much like other rodents hamsters are characterized by their small bodies, short tails, and tiny ears, Their fur comes in a wide variety of colors and shades including black, yellow, white, brown, grey, or a mixture of these colors.

There are presently about twenty four different hamster species which vary in size. European varieties, for example, can measure just over thirteen inches in length. On the opposite side of the spectrum so called dwarf hamsters may only grow two to four inches. The species most commonly purchased as a pet, the Syrian/teddy bear/golden variety of hamster, usually reaches about six inches in length.

Hamsters can be gentle by nature but have been known to bite especially when startled or unexpectedly awoken. The little rodents must also cope with poor eyesight which forces them to rely on their sense of smell which is used to pick up the smell from their scent glands located on their backs.

Behavior of Hamsters

As a nocturnal animal hamsters prefer to be active during the night time hours. Wild hamsters dig a series of tunnels which provides them with enough living space to spend most of their time. The tunnels also serve to accommodate food storage and an environment large enough for breeding purposes. Living under the earth also provides the small rodents with a cooler temperature in an otherwise hot climate. When it becomes too cold outside wild hamsters will opt to hibernate inside their carefully constructed tunnels.

In terms of getting along with one another some hamster species, such as the dwarf, are social while others, like the Syrian, are territorial and prefer being alone.

Diet of Hamsters

In the wild hamsters subsist on a diet composed of small animals such as frogs, lizards, and a variety of insects.

Conservation of Hamsters

In Syria the wild golden hamster has been designated as being vulnerable to extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' Red List. One of the main reasons for this status involves human intervention in native hamster habitats.

It’s important to remember that a domesticated hamster cannot survive on its own nor can it be returned to the wild.


More in Environment