Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Hamsters And Deserts

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.

Click image to enlarge
prairie dog
This prairie dog is on watch duty outside the tunnels. He reminded me of my brother's Winter White hamsters, which do the same thing.
prairie dog city
Photos Courtesy of Catya
I've always dreamed of having this kind of habitat for my hamsters. This is a colony of prairie dogs at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Hi, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful 4th of July! This week finds me in the land of saguaro cacti and 105 degree temperatures — Arizona! My family is taking the week to visit relatives here.

With my wonderful hamster-sitter on duty, I don’t need to worry about my hamsters, but I do still miss them. Out here under the desert sky, I wonder about how Roborovski hamsters survive in their natural habitat — the deserts of Mongolia and Northern China.

I’ve written before about how to help your hamsters beat the summer heat, and how important it is to keep their homes below 77 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s tempting to think that, because they’re desert creatures, they should just be able to cope with the heat themselves. But as it turns out, that’s not quite true.

To find out more about how hamsters survive the scorching conditions of their homeland, I went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The museum is a great way to find out how the desert animals can live in such a tough environment. My favorite exhibit is the prairie dog “city.” There’s a colony of prairie dogs, protected from hawks and snakes, where visitors can watch them burrow and play. There’s even a cool observation window built into the side of the hill they’re on so that you can see into their tunnels. Prairie dogs are rodents, and so they’re distant relatives of Roborovski hamsters. A lot of the heat-fighting behaviors they’ve picked up are the same tricks that hamsters use.

From watching the prairie dogs and reading the exhibits, I found out a lot about how rodents survive in the desert. It turns out that even though it was 106 degrees above ground that day, in the tunnels a few feet below the surface, it was up to 30 degrees cooler! That means that underground it rarely gets above the high 70s, and that’s why we have to keep our hamsters’ homes that cool.

Hamsters have some other heat-busting tricks that prairie dogs don’t know. For example, hamsters, unlike prairie dogs, aren’t active during the day. Hamsters wait until it’s nice and cool to forage for food and survey the world above their burrows. We often say that hamsters are nocturnal, but technically, they’re crepuscular, which just means that they’re most active at dusk and dawn. Why don’t they wait until nighttime when it’s even cooler than dusk or dawn? Well, most potential hamster predators also wait until nighttime! So by waiting until the “sweet spots,” dusk and dawn, they can have enough light to find food without risking becoming food for owls.

I’m probably not going to China or Mongolia any time soon, so if I want to see Roborovski hamsters in the wild, I have to use the Internet! I found an awesome BBC video, part of their “Wild China” documentary, with actual footage from inside a Roborovski colony’s tunnels! Unless someone builds a Roborovski “city” with observation windows, this is the best glimpse we have into the life of wild Roborovskis.

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great article thabnks
Tommy, Pcoatello, ID
Posted: 7/7/2010 7:57:15 AM
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