Hamsters belong to the family Cricetidae, which includes voles and lemmings as well as rats and mice. The 20 or more species of hamsters are quite varied. Some are rat-like, whilst some are small and cuddlier. The most popular species for pets are the golden or Syrian hamster.
To avoid being eaten by the many creatures that find them tasty (snakes, eagles, foxes and badgers to mention a few) Hamsters are nocturnal. In the wild they dig burrows and deep tunnels for protection and to sleep in. They are solitary animals and spend most of their time alone.
Male and female hamsters are polygynandrous—meaning they have multiple mates. During breeding season, males travel from burrow to burrow and mate with any female they find, provided said female hasn't already mated. Females will normally birth two to four litters a year—their gestation period is only 15 to 22 days—and litter sizes can range from one to 13 young, though the average is around five to seven. This means that a female could have up to 52 a babies a year!!!!
Thanks to their prolific rate of reproduction hamsters are not allowed in Hawaii. It is feared that should they escape into the wild that this fact, coupled with the fact Hawaii offers the kind of climate hamsters love, would mean they would quickly multiply. Which would pose a problem for agriculture and other native species. Hawaii’s list of banned animals also includes hummingbirds, snakes, gerbils, hermit crabs, and salamanders.
Hamsters are built for food storage. Their cheeks are like tiny shopping bags that they can fill with fruit, grains, roots, and leaves. When they find an abundant source of food, they fill thier cheek pouches (they are capable of carrying their own body weight!) and return to their burrows, where they have prepared food chambers for storage.
The name ‘hamster’ comes from the German word ‘hamstern’ which is associated with storing food.
Their cheeks also have a secondary and much more fun purpose. Should they find themselves in water they can inflate them and use them as buoyancy devices.
Hamsters are coprophagic, that’s a big word that means they eat their own poo. They do this to make sure they're absorbing all nutrients from the foods they've eaten. The kind of faeces they eat is soft—sometimes called "night faeces"—and they often eat it directly from their bottom – eugh!
Most hamster species are fast runners. The shape and size of their hind feet allow many of them to run backwards as quickly as they run forwards. This is vitally important in allowing them to escape in their burrows when threatened.