A golden hamster, or Mesocricetus auratus, is a type of small rodent in the Cricetinae subfamily, which includes all 25 types of hamsters. Golden hamsters, also known as Syrian hamsters, are often kept as pets. They range from 4 inches (10.2 cm) to 7 inches (17.8 cm) long, and female golden hamsters tend to be bigger than males. Fur color can be golden brown, reddish brown or sable, often mixed with a creamy hue, white or even black in varying patterns.
The native habitat of the golden hamster is the northwestern area of Syria, which is a hot, dry desert environment. These sturdy rodents adapt well to any climate, however, which accounts for their popularity not only as pets but also as animals used in scientific research. Golden hamsters are nocturnal, meaning that they sleep during the day and are active mainly at night. They are extremely territorial and must be kept isolated from one another. If two golden hamsters are placed in a single cage, they will begin to exhibit hostile behavior, which culminates in fighting.
Of all the hamster breeds, the golden hamster is the most popular pet. They are easy to care for and are tolerant of being handled if they grow accustomed to human scent from a fairly young age. The dietary needs of the golden hamster can be satisfied through commercially available food for hamsters, which is comprised of various seeds and grains. They enjoy vegetables such as pieces of fresh carrots or broccoli. Hamsters like bits of apple, too, but they should not be given citrus fruits because of their acidity. Fresh water should be made continually available to hamsters, preferably through a water bottle in the animal's cage.
The golden hamster lives, on average, two to three years in captivity, though a few of these animals have reached five years of age. They need a cage that is large enough for them to get plenty of exercise in during their active periods. While sleeping, golden hamsters do not like to be disturbed, and pet owners should not try to handle them with hands that smell like food, or the hamster might bite.
Female golden hamsters go in heat approximately every four days and, when in season, exude a strong smell. The gestation period of the golden hamster is only 16 days, and a female golden hamster can give birth to a litter of anywhere from eight to 20 pups, though eight to ten pups is the average number. Golden hamsters attain sexual maturity when they are four to five weeks old.