An angora hamster, also called a golden or a Syrian hamster, is often kept as a pet. There are several different species of pet hamsters, and the angora hamster is one of the most common. Like the breed of rabbit with which it shares a name, the angora hamster has unusually long fur, which is especially long in males. These hamsters are native to the Middle East, where they live in solitary burrows.
In the wild, the angora hamster is found in parts of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. They prefer warm temperatures and can go into a state of temporary hibernation if temperatures at night approach freezing. Wild angora hamsters were first collected in 1930, and these specimens formed the basis of the breeding stock for the pet and laboratory markets until more were collected in 1997 and 1999. The angora hamster is considered to be vulnerable to extinction in the wild, mostly due to loss of habitat. Populations in captivity, however, are high because these animals are popular as both pets and as laboratory animals.
On average, the angora hamster lives for approximately two to three years. They are capable of reproducing at the age of four months, and females come into heat every four days. Once impregnated, the gestation of the angora hamster is the shortest of all placental mammals, at just 16 days. The young develop quickly and are able to live on their own by the time they are between 6 and 10 weeks old. At this age, the territorial instincts of the angora hamster develop, which can lead both pet and wild hamsters to defend their territory to the death.
The angora hamster is most active at dawn and dusk. In captivity, they also tend to be quite active at night and are often described as nocturnal, though wild hamsters show circadian rhythms more similar to crepuscular animals. They come out of their burrows when they are awake but stay near enough to continue to use them as protection from predatory animals.
Hamsters are members of the rodent order and are distantly related to mice and rats. They are most closely related to voles and lemmings, with which they are members of the Cricetidae family. Three other hamster species share a genus with this hamster.