Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Hamster Memory

By Catya
Catya is a judge with the California Hamster Association. She shares her experiences in hamster ownership from a high school student's perspective.

Roborovski hamsters are reunited
Two Roborovski hamsters get re-acquainted in neutral territory.
Kevin and his Winter White hamster
Photos Courtesy Catya
Catya's brother Kevin and his Winter White hamsters have a strong bond.

Hi, everyone! I’m having a lot of fun in school right now, taking chemistry, physics and music theory, along with other things. I’m finding that many of my classes demand a lot of memorization. I have to remember how to name ionic compounds (and you can’t just call them all “Ted”); I have to remember the equations and formulas for physics (F=ma, don’t push on a rope); and I have to remember what class comes after the next and what rooms they’re in! Thinking about how to master my own memory has gotten me thinking about hamsters and their memories.

I know that hamsters can remember people. My brother’s Winter White dwarfs definitely remember him, even though he’s away at college these days. He spent so many happy hours with them when they were little that they will never forget him, and they miss him when he’s gone. (Have you ever seen a hamster sulk? I have!) When he comes home for school holidays, they are so unbelievably happy! The moment they hear his voice, they come running out to see him.

I’m also sure that they remember other hamsters. Once, I had to split a breeding pair of Roborovski hamsters, Teddy and Cassiopeia, because Teddy developed a skin condition. I thought it might be contagious, so I made a separate house for Teddy. I later found out that the “skin condition” was just a bald patch he kept scratching involuntarily because of a tremor in his back leg. Once I realized that Cassie couldn’t catch it, I thought about putting them back together, because they had both definitely been saddened by living alone.

However, it’s always a risky business to re-pair Robs, even if they’ve only been apart a short while. So I had them meet again on neutral territory, carefully observing them for the slightest sign of violence. Much to my surprise, there was no squabbling at all. Instead, they joyfully greeted each other and were soon snoozing together in a corner of the neutral cage. They lived together again after that until they passed away.

I’ve also seen hamsters grieve over lost loved ones. Deana and Guinan, a pair of sisters, had been living together all their lives. When Guinan passed away, Deana stopped eating for a while. She didn’t even run in her wheel. She didn’t cheer up until I really made an effort to give her extra attention every day. Now she looks forward to her time with me, and when she hears me, she runs out of her nest to come sit on her little treat plate, waiting for snack time. That’s something hamsters never forget.

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