Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The untold story of the hamster

(De Agostini / Getty Images)

Ever wonder where hamsters came from? It's a fascinating story, all described in this Smithsonian article:
In the spring of 1930, Aharoni staged an expedition to the hills of Syria, near Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world. His quest was simple: he wanted to catch the rare golden mammal whose Arabic name translates roughly as “mister saddlebags.” On finding the animal he would either ally it with its Hebrew name in the Torah or, as seemed more likely, name it himself. But there was another motive. One of Aharoni’s colleagues, Saul Adler, thought that the animal might be similar enough to humans to serve as a lab animal in medical research, particularly for the study of the parasitic disease leishmaniasis, which was and still is common in the region.

Yeah, in 1930, the hamster was rare and little-known. And it still is, in the wild. Every tame hamster on Earth - and there must be millions of them by now - are all descended from a brother and sister pair captured by Israel Aharoni.

This article describes his adventures in hilarious detail, complete with hamsters eating each other and chewing their way to freedom. And even now, according to this account, we know very little about wild hamsters. They remain rare and relatively unstudied.

It really is a fascinating article.


Chimeradave said...

I've never wondered where hamsters came from, probably because I've always loathed them because they are smelly and generally disgusting.

Also, they're like fish, you have to take care of them, and you don't really get much back. I'll take a dog or a cat any day.

WCG said...

Yeah, John, but they have so many charming habits, like eating their young. :)