At first thought, it may seem like the answer to the question of ‘is a hamster a mammal?’, is simple; they give birth to live young, so they must be a mammal, right? But then you think about the fact that they are often referred to as rodents, and this adds an element of confusion. Are rodents mammals, or are they a class all of their own? It’s headache-inducing.
Hamsters are rodents, and rodents are a group of animals within the mammal (Mammalia) class. Other animals that are similar in nature are rats, mice, and guinea pigs.
But there is so much more to this than I first realized and once I started to investigate, there was a lot to discover. So, let’s take a look.
Are Hamsters Mammals?
According to Wikipedia, mammals are vertebrates and the females have mammary glands that are used to produce milk to feed their young.
They also have fur or hair and have three bones in the middle ear and all of these traits serve to distinguish them from other types of animals such as birds, fish, and reptiles.
As you can probably remember from your school days, mammals also typically give birth to live young as opposed to laying eggs.
But there are anomalies, known as monotremes that lay eggs, even though these are still classed as mammals in every other aspect.
Hamsters are mammals since they fit all of the criteria for this type of creature. They have fur, they have live babies, they have three middle ear bones and the females produce milk to feed their young.
However, you will notice that hamsters are also called rodents and this is where things can get a little complicated.
Rodents are a group of animals that fall under the category of mammals but they have certain distinct features that put them into this sub-category.
One of the key elements of a rodent is that it is either earth dwelling or subterranean; this means that they live under the ground. Rodents normally live among plants or in burrows, and you will have likely seen your pet burrowing in their cage as this behavior is ingrained in them due to being a rodent.
Rodents, including hamsters, are omnivores, as are many other types of mammals, including us! This means that their diet is made up of both plant-based foods such as vegetables and meats, although hamsters will typically eat things like insects.
They like to chew on things and this is because rodents have teeth that continue to grow throughout their entire lives. If they are not able to gnaw and grind the teeth down, they will end up being overgrown which can cause health problems.
Going even further down the chain, hamsters are not only mammals and rodents but they also come in 24 different species. However, only five of them are domesticated and are able to be kept as pets. The Syrian hamster and the Roborovski dwarf hamster are examples of these.
While all of these are classed as hamsters, they each have different characteristics that set them apart from one another.
One of the most recognizable traits of a mammal, as we have discussed, is that they give birth to live young. This is typically the first question that a lot of people ask when trying to determine the type of animal.
Hamsters have a relatively short life; they live, on average between 18 months and two years and this means that their reproduction cycle is also very rapid.
Hamsters are able to start reproducing from just four to six weeks old. They are also very adept at making babies so if you do not want a litter of hamsters, you should avoid putting males and females together as they will mate and it will happen quickly.
Female hamsters come into heat about once every four days so they can become pregnant at an alarming rate. Once they conceive, these animals are pregnant for just sixteen days before giving birth to a litter of up to twenty pups. That being said, between six and twelve is what you would typically see.
The babies will feed exclusively on their mother’s milk until they reach around two weeks old when they are weaned onto regular foods.
On average, a female hamster will have three litters a year, if she can mate; that’s a lot of baby hamsters!
The Hamster Diet
We touched on the fact that as rodents, hamsters are omnivores and this makes them interesting to keep as pets because you will be able to offer a wide variety of foods.
In the wild, hamsters may prey on insects and worms and these are things that they can eat in captivity, provided that you have purchased them from a pet store and not collected them from your backyard.
However, they might also catch things like frogs, small mammals, and lizards in the wild and while you may not have these to hand at home, they do like a bit of chicken.
Hamsters all need a lot of plant-based foods and will eat grains, fruits, and vegetables. There are many things you can give to your hamster but you should avoid the green parts of tomatoes, onions, and garlic as these are toxic to hamsters.
Is a hamster a rat or a mouse?
Rats and mice are both types of rodents but hamsters are not the same animals. It might be easy to confuse them since there are a lot of similarities. However, to tell them apart, one of the best things to do is to look at the tail. Rats and mice tend to have much longer tails than hamsters who generally have a short, stubby tail.
Can hamsters mate with mice?
You could be forgiven for thinking that hamsters and mice would make a good crossbreeding experiment, what with them both being rodents. But in reality, these two creatures will not take an interest in one another and would be almost certain to not mate.
What’s more, if you put these two animals together, there is a very real chance that they will fight causing potential injury to the animals, stress and in the worst case, death.