Are hamsters intelligent creatures? A human brain weighs around 1.5kg – like one-and-a-half bags of sugar.
In contrast, the brain of a hamster is tiny, smaller than the fingernail of your little finger, and weighing around the same as a breath-freshener mint.
Yet hamsters have brains that look almost identical to our own under the microscope, and that seems to have many functions that are remarkably similar to our own.
People who own hamsters will not be surprised by this. They know that hamsters are smart. They learn to recognise their owners’ voices, and will even respond to some commands.
I know somebody who has trained their hamster to sit down and wait, like a little dog, when a treat is waved in front of his nose.
Poppy is an eighteen-month-old hamster who has a very appealing appearance, with beady black eyes, a pink nose, and extra-long whiskers.
Some hamsters are known to bite if picked up, but Poppy is always friendly, and she seems to enjoy being handled by humans, even if they are strangers.
Poppy’s Privileged Living Conditions
Poppy lives a privileged life. She inhabits a large cage, with tubes, ladders, and a large wheel to keep her entertained and physically fit.
As well as the usual dry hamster mix, she is fed fruit and vegetables, and she also enjoys occasional yoghurt raisins (which she loves).
She is taken out of her cage every evening to play with her owners. Poppy is also allowed to roam around the floor inside a transparent plastic ball. She lives alone, but hamsters are solitary creatures that tend to fight if they meet other members of their own species.
Hamsters are notorious escape artists, using their sharp teeth to gnaw their way out of an enclosed space. Plastic hamster cages are normally strong enough to contain them, but some hamsters very determined.
One morning recently, Poppy’s hamster cage was empty. She had somehow managed to escape: somebody hadn’t closed the cage door properly.
Search And Rescue Programme
A major search-and-rescue programme was commenced, with every corner of the house is carefully checked. Furniture was moved, cupboards were opened and inspected, and skirting boards were scrutinised for possible escape holes.
But there was no sign of Poppy, nor any sign of how she could have escaped from the room. her owner left small piles of hamster treats in different rooms, hoping to tempt Poppy out into the open.
But the food remained untouched, and two days later, there had been no sign of her at all. Had she somehow managed to get outside? Had she been attacked by a wild rat, a bird, or a cat? They were beginning to lose hope of finding her.
On the third morning, they noticed that a couple of the hamster treats had been taken. This was a definite sign of hamster life. Her owner came downstairs during the middle of the following night. She was delighted to find Poppy sitting there, munching another treat. She seemed happy to be picked up and put back into her cage.
Hamsters have depressingly short life spans and at eighteen months of age, Poppy is already “getting older”. How much longer will she live? Only a few hamsters live beyond the age of three years, but I did hear about one individual who died at the age of five.
Poppy is living as good a life as any hamster could live, with just the right combination of food, exercise, and love from her owners.
With a little luck, perhaps she will go on to be a record-breaker. Whatever happens, Poppy’s intelligence and personality will never be forgotten
- Hamsters are surprisingly intelligent for their size
- They’re good pets for children, as long as they are trained to be handled
- The biggest problem is their short lifespan, of three years or so