11 February 2012

Christopher blocks access to her nest

Christopher in her nest, with a blocked tube
Hamsters are small, they don't live long. Given their small bodies, it comes as no surprise that their brains are not the size of cows or humans. Nevertheless, they have them, and it should be obvious to even the most casual of observers that something is going on in those brains. Just the fact that we don't know yet what is going on does not mean nothing is going on.

Case in point: I just reattached a nesting ball to the Habitrail Cristal cage that my current hamster Christopher has taken up residence in.

She promptly brought her food to it, including the two hazelnuts she has been trying to breach for weeks now. She also brought bedding down, and then construction really started. Almost all the bedding she had brought down, she pushed back into the upward tube, leaving no bedding in the ball.

She went to sleep, the ball started to become humid on the inside. When she awoke and eventually decided to climb up, I removed the ball, threw out the wet bedding and put her food into the cage. The ball was then cleaned and put back into its place with nothing.

Christopher in her nest, with lots of condensation
Christopher heard that something was happening, climbed down, saw the empty ball, and -undaunted- brought back all her food into the ball, followed by new bedding. She covered the food with the bedding, went back to play upstairs, and when she came down again to sleep, she pushed all the bedding back into the tube.

Before sleeping however, she had one last task to perform: a good pee on her food. Needless to say, this led to even more condensation in her ball, and the perfumes coming from it had taken a distinct turn for the worse.

Yesterday evening, same scenario except for one difference: she had brought down less bedding than the previous days, although she did push it back into the tube before going to sleep. When I woke up, however, she had taken back the bedding and the tube was now open. Unsurprisingly, there was no condensation in the ball now. None.

I am curious as to what will happen next!

02 February 2012

Who are the hamsters in the banner on top?

Those three hamsters were not chosen at random or by accident. In fact, they are -or have been- my little friends.

From right to left: Richard, Edzard-Aline and Christopher.

Richard, my first golden (Syrian) hamster
When I bought Richard at PJ's PETS at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto, I was told it was a boy. I didn't really think much of it, since I had chosen it because I liked the colour.

As a sort of an homage to Richard Leakey, a well-known paleoanthropologist and conservationist and to Richard Dawkins, the man who single-handedly changed the world's view on how evolution by natural selection works at the gene level, rather than at the level of the organism, I named the hamster Richard.

After a few days, I started noticing that Richard lacked some features that are required to rightly declare it a boy. On the other hand, it did have some other features boys aren't supposed to have. In other words, it was a girl.

I never changed Richard's name into something different, as I figured that we are beyond this type of sexism now.

I acquired Richard on 8 October 2008. She died on 21 September 2010.

Edzard-Aline, my second golden hamster
Although I had really liked Richard, I was very much in doubt I wanted another hamster and I was seriously considering a few rats instead, because rats are bigger and more sociable. I remember their constant chattering during the night during my years as a student, when I did have several rats. In the end, I decided for a new hamster anyway.

Instead of going to PJ'S PETS at Yonge and Eglinton, a small store, I decided to acquire the new hamster at PJ'S PETS at Yonge and Brookdale in Toronto. Wanting a hamster that didn't look like Richard, I pointed to the only other choice the store had at the time, and that was it.

This time, it was rather obvious that the new hamster was a boy. In continuation of my non-sexist name-giving, I called him Edzard-Aline, as an homage to Edzard Ernst, the world's first and most respected professor of alternology (alternative medicine) and to Aline Colle-Vandevelde (also known as Aline Vandevelde), almost certainly the bravest anatomist my native Belgium has ever known, and a woman for whom I have tremendous admiration, for it is thanks to her that I learned what "evidence-based" and the "scientific method" really mean.

Even though he did seem to sleep incredibly restful sleeps in the beginning, that was an illusion. He was a very anxious little critter and I even caught him a few times having nightmares.

I acquired Edzard-Aline on 22 September 2010 and he died suddenly and completely unexpectedly and far too soon during the night between 18 and 19 December 2011.

Christopher, my third golden hamster
When Edzard-Aline died, I remembered my hesitation to buy a new hamster and go the rat-route instead. In order to stop such feelings in the bud, I went back to PJ'S PETS the very same morning to acquire a new hamster, this time at Yonge and Eglinton again. To my delight, they had a hamster in the original wild-style agouti colouring. Without hesitation, I bought her and brought her home.

In homage to Christopher Hitchens, a man whom I originally detested, but had learned to respect tremendously over time and who died only 4 days earlier, I named the new hamster Christopher even though it was very clear to me that it was (and still is ^_^) a girl.

Christopher turns out to be rather skittish, but not nearly as much as Edzard-Aline and she has allowed me to pick her up a few times, even though it is obvious that she doesn't like it one bit. We will see what the future brings. I will definitely do my best to give her the happy life she can and should expect in my care.

I acquired Christopher on 19 December 2011 and I wish her a very happy and long life.

Why mesocricetus.com?

Christopher - a golden (Syrian) hamster
Mesocricetus.com may sound like a rather nincompoopish name for a site about cute little furry critters, but it isn't. Really.

The scientific name for the golden hamster, also known as the Syrian hamster, is Mesocricetus auratus. What does this gobbledygook mean?

Mesocricetus auratus is a Latin name and consists rather obviously of two parts: mesocricetus and auratus.

Mesocricetus is itself composed of two parts: meso and cricetus. Meso is a prefix that means intermediate, mean, middle. Cricetus means hamster in Latin. Mesocricetus therefore means 'middle-sized hamster'.

Auratus means gilded, covered with a layer of gold. As you can see in the picture above, the name is well-chosen, as golden (Syrian) hamsters tend to have a golden glow. It is not difficult to imagine that they would really appear to glow in the setting sun of the desert where they come from.

And now we have the meaning of Mesocricetus auratus: the gilded middle-sized hamster.

Note that the italics and the initial capital are not optional: they are what help make the Latin name from a mere word into a scientific name.

So, this is it: Mesocricetus auratus, the golden hamster or Syrian hamster.

The name of the site, mesocricetus.com, is now a lot easier to understand. But why not MesocricetusAuratus.com, then? I thought about it, but mesocricetus is difficult enough to type as it is. I did not want to make it even longer for no particularly convincing reason.

I had also looked into using meso.com, cricetus.com or auratus.com, but all three names already existed. So, as a result and as a compromise, it became mesocricetus.com.

Welcome to the golden hamster

These days, more and more people live in smaller and smaller dwellings. While many of us still would like to have an animal companion, many think this isn't an option, because animals take up space, and need care and attention, and are often generally destructive, something that has become rather important and difficult to ignore since we have started filling our dwellings with delicate electronics.

Take heart! All is not lost. You really do not need to rent an entire floor of an apartment building to be able to enjoy an animal companion. This is what we have the so-called pocket-pet category for, and while a hamster might not be the ideal animal to travel in your pocket if you'd like to keep it from springing holes, hamsters have other qualities that make them into ideal pets for many of us.

On these pages, I will introduce you to my three hamsters (so far) who they were -and are- what was special about them and more.

I will also talk about what to expect from a hamster, and what not, about practical stuff that is good to know for hamster owners, and about what science tells us about them.

Please enjoy the site while I am building it up.

Thank you for coming by!