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chorpler
06-15-2007, 06:32 AM
http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mhamsters.htm

Excellent article about hamsters. I read the story of the enraged scientist dunking the murderous mama hamster in a botle of cyanide in Joel Achenbach's Why Things Are books years ago, but this provided all the details that I never knew. I had no idea a hamster could sever a baby hamster's head in one bite, although if their teeth are anything like my guinea pig's teeth I guess it's no surprise.

I did see a typo: the end says "Although golden hamsters have been often been considered rare in the wild...", which I believe contains one "been" too many.

Bricker
06-15-2007, 09:54 AM
This (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mhamsters.htm) is simply an outstanding Staff Report. Well-written, humor in the right places, and highly informative. I had no idea that most golden hamsters today were the likely descendants of a hamster "Eve" from the 1930s.

Well done!

Bricker
06-15-2007, 09:55 AM
This (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mhamsters.htm) is simply an outstanding Staff Report. Well-written, humor in the right places, and highly informative. I had no idea that most golden hamsters today were the likely descendants of a hamster "Eve" from the 1930s.

Well done!

And somehow I missed the existing thread. :(

samclem
06-15-2007, 10:56 AM
And somehow I missed the existing thread. :( I'll merge the two threads.

samclem

cmkeller
06-15-2007, 01:49 PM
Agreed, that is one fascinating piece of research - who would have imagined there was such a story behind them? Kudos, Colibri.

Gfactor
06-15-2007, 01:55 PM
Let me be the fourth do commend you on an excellent piece. :D

Civil Guy
06-15-2007, 07:51 PM
I'm not much of a pet person myself, but for a few years I owned some hamsters: my dad thought that I might like the cute little gals and wasn't easily disuaded. He could be annoying that way.

Anyhow, while I had them, I cared for them as best I could. Learned some things in the process.

He gave me a pair of them, thinking they would keep each other company. Females, because my dad at least had the sense to know that raising hamster families might be more than I cared to take on. Anyhow, after watching them fight too often, I finally learned that hamsters really don't like each other - so, separate cages for them.

The other thing that every hamster owner knows is that they are nocturnal, and that they really, really need to run - so if the wheel is even a little bit squeaky, the cage MUST go in the other room.

Yes, they were cute little gals.

Kokopilau
06-18-2007, 01:56 PM
Agreed, that is one fascinating piece of research - who would have imagined there was such a story behind them? Kudos, Colibri.

Indeed!

You never see stuff like THAT on Hamtaro!

Colibri
06-18-2007, 05:58 PM
Thanks for the kind words. It was a fun report to write. I think one of the most interesting things about the story is the great range of variation now present in domestic breeds, even though they are all descended from a single individual.

PS. The typo mentioned in the OP has been fixed.

Baron Greenback
06-19-2007, 11:04 AM
I never imagined that there was such an interesting story behind the humble hamster. And it was very entertainingly told Colibri!

Sal Ammoniac
06-19-2007, 11:15 AM
Great article, but it leaves me wondering: are there no adverse genetic consequences to the hamster race from the incestuous coupling of the founding members? I'm guessing not, but is that just because of luck, or does it have something to do with the nature of hamsters?

Colibri
06-19-2007, 11:43 AM
There's nothing unusual about hamsters with regards to inbreeding. With respect to the original litter, among them each gene could have been represented by up to four different alleles (variant forms), two each from the mother and father. Serious problems due to inbreeding result when the population remains small over many generations, which can result in the loss of alleles due to chance. Because the original captive population grew exponentially, it probably retained nearly all the genetic variability present in the original litter. While its variability would have been small relative to the wild population, it was sufficient to avoid inbreeding depression.

Besides that, the very short generation time and very rapid expansion of the captive population allowed many chances for new mutations to take place (although the mutation rate itself would not have been any higher than normal). These new mutations are undoubtedly the main source of the coat color and coat type variants now present. Given that hamsters mature rapidly and have several generations per year, about 5,000-10,000 "hamster years" have passed since the founding of the captive population.

eightoh9
06-19-2007, 12:17 PM
The interesting thing to me about this article is that not only do we learn the pedigree of the hamsters, but we also learn about the pedigrees of the Jews involved in the history. It was definitely and interesting time in history. I'd like to know the pedigrees of the non-Jews as well.

Elendil's Heir
06-19-2007, 12:35 PM
...I'd like to know the pedigrees of the non-Jews as well.

Well, regardless of what the spurious Protocols of the Hamsters of Aleppo says, they didn't bite the heads off any of their kids.

Great Staff Report. I learned a lot.

sqweels
06-19-2007, 01:14 PM
The British Hamster Club?! I'd rather be a Mouseketeer!

Colibri
06-19-2007, 01:23 PM
I'd like to know the pedigrees of the non-Jews as well.

Which non-Jews? Alexander and Patrick Russell? George Robert Waterhouse? James Henry Skene? Sheikh El Beled? Georgius Khalil Tah'an?

Sal Ammoniac
06-19-2007, 01:50 PM
Colibri, thanks for your answer about the inbreeding. Now for a follow-on question: do non-human mammals have any way, other than dispersal, of avoiding brother-sister coupling? Put another way, if a hamster female had two potential mates at her disposal, one her brother and one not, would she tend to choose the one who was not her brother? If not, it seems to me that through sheer chance, brother-sister couplings would be fairly frequent in the animal kingdom.

Colibri
06-19-2007, 02:17 PM
Yes, it turns out that both mice and humans are able to recognize differences in genes for the "Major Histocompatability Complex" through their sense of smell, and avoid mating with individuals whose MHC genes are too similar (who are also likely to be related).


http://ndt.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/15/9/1269

DSYoungEsq
06-19-2007, 02:35 PM
Thanks for the kind words. It was a fun report to write. I think one of the most interesting things about the story is the great range of variation now present in domestic breeds, even though they are all descended from a single individual.
Unless parthenogenesis was involved, presumably they are descended from four individuals, not just one. There may have been a single member of one of the genders, but there were apparently three members of the other gender in the gene pool.

Sal Ammoniac
06-19-2007, 03:04 PM
Yes, it turns out that both mice and humans are able to recognize differences in genes for the "Major Histocompatability Complex" through their sense of smell, and avoid mating with individuals whose MHC genes are too similar (who are also likely to be related).


http://ndt.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/15/9/1269
Cool! According to the article, it even works with humans... or at least those humans willing to sniff up other humans wearing two-day-old T-shirts.

Elendil's Heir
06-19-2007, 03:12 PM
Yes, it turns out that both mice and humans are able to recognize differences in genes for the "Major Histocompatability Complex" through their sense of smell, and avoid mating with individuals whose MHC genes are too similar (who are also likely to be related)....

Oedipus and his mom must have both had bad head colds.

chorpler
06-19-2007, 08:03 PM
Unless parthenogenesis was involved, presumably they are descended from four individuals, not just one. There may have been a single member of one of the genders, but there were apparently three members of the other gender in the gene pool.

They're all descended from the one mother hamster who died in the bottle of cyanide, though, right?

Colibri
06-19-2007, 09:32 PM
They're all descended from the one mother hamster who died in the bottle of cyanide, though, right?

Correct. That's the "one individual" I was referring too. Of course, actually they are descended from the male parent as well. I phrased that a bit sloppily.

Colibri
06-19-2007, 09:49 PM
To expand on that a little, the effective gene pool would have been two individuals, unless more than one male had sired the litter.

Another case of a population descended from a single female is the Chatham Island Black Robin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Robin) of New Zealand. The population was reduced to five individuals, but only one of the two remaining females was fertile. As in the case of hamsters, this seems to have caused no severe problems due inbreeding, even though the population now numbers only 250 compared to millions in the case of domestic hamsters.

Incidentally, Don Merton, mentioned in the article, was a colleague of mine when I worked for the NZ Wildlife Service in the 1980s.

Chronos
06-19-2007, 10:33 PM
Interesting that the first captive hamster had the unfortunate trait of cannibalizing her young. Is it possible that this is actually a somewhat rare trait among wild hamsters, and that that momma hamster just chanced to luckily find herself in an environment (being raised by humans) where it wouldn't be a major handicap to breeding? It seems like it would be a rather counteradaptive trait, in most circumstances.

Colibri
06-19-2007, 10:48 PM
No, the behavior is not limited to hamsters but is quite widespread among rodents and some other mammals. There are various theories as to why it occurs. It could be adaptive (e.g., the disturbed female assumes the probability of the young surviving is very low, and consumes them in order to make use of the nutrients in case she has the chance to breed again) to pathological.

See here for an abstract of an article discussing the subject.

http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0033-5770(198503)60%3A1%3C1%3ACPITSO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-9#abstract

Colibri
06-19-2007, 11:32 PM
to pathological.

That should read, "or it could be pathological."

balok
06-20-2007, 12:42 AM
http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mhamsters.htm

I did see a typo: the end says "Although golden hamsters have been often been considered rare in the wild...", which I believe contains one "been" too many.

And yet you missed the paragraph where "Aharoni" is consistently misspelled as "Arahoni". . .

-- Balok

balok
06-20-2007, 12:44 AM
But where do Siberian Filigree Hamsters come from?

-- Balok

Holger
06-20-2007, 03:24 AM
The article says:
The name hamster comes from German and means “hoarder,” an apt description considering the animal’s habit of storing large caches of seeds in burrows as a reserve food supply.
Although my trusty Kluge etymological dictionary isn't quite explicit in the details, it indicates that the noun came first (describing the animal), and the verb "hamstern" (to hoard) was coined later, alluding to the hamster's behavior als explained by Colibri.

The noun came into German from one of several possible Eastern European languages, most likely via Old Church Slavonic (see also http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=h&p=1 ).

BTW, that website also says "The older Eng. name for it was German rat." I'm trying hard not to take that personally...

Colibri
06-20-2007, 10:58 AM
And yet you missed the paragraph where "Aharoni" is consistently misspelled as "Arahoni". . .

-- Balok

Thanks. My bad. I´ll have it fixed.

Colibri
06-20-2007, 11:01 AM
The article says:

Although my trusty Kluge etymological dictionary isn't quite explicit in the details, it indicates that the noun came first (describing the animal), and the verb "hamstern" (to hoard) was coined later, alluding to the hamster's behavior als explained by Colibri.

The noun came into German from one of several possible Eastern European languages, most likely via Old Church Slavonic (see also http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=h&p=1 ).

BTW, that website also says "The older Eng. name for it was German rat." I'm trying hard not to take that personally...

Thanks for that as well. I didn't have a German etymological dictionary available, but just used an English-German one, which did not make the distinction.

Arnold Winkelried
06-21-2007, 11:47 PM
No, the behavior is not limited to hamsters but is quite widespread among rodents and some other mammals. There are various theories as to why it occurs. It could be adaptive (e.g., the disturbed female assumes the probability of the young surviving is very low, and consumes them in order to make use of the nutrients in case she has the chance to breed again) to pathological.OK, if I remember right, rabbits are lagomorphs, not rodents, but readers of Watership Down will recall the author describing how, under conditions of overpopulation, mother rabbits will "reabsorb" the fetus. Is that true? Or was the author misinformed?

John W. Kennedy
06-22-2007, 06:52 AM
No, it's true.

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