Syrian hamsters are diurnal in the wild but nocturnal in captivity

By kleo

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Did you know that Syrian hamsters are diurnal in nature? It might surprise hamster owners to learn of this, since pet hamsters are nocturnal!

The study Golden hamsters are nocturnal in captivity but diurnal in nature was published in 2008.  The researchers tracked 12 female hamsters in the wild in Turkey and 10 female hamsters in captivity. While the hamsters in the lab were exclusively active when the lights were out, the hamsters in the wild were active almost excessively during daylight hours. Each day, the wild hamsters spent on average an hour and a half outside of their burrows foraging for food. They were mostly active between 6:00-8:00 AM and 4:00-5:30 PM, with hardly any activity outside of these times. The study was not able to track when the hamsters were active inside their burrows, however.

Why do wild hamsters have such different activity patterns than hamsters in captivity? Scientists don’t know for sure, but this study proposed that the wild hamsters are trying to avoid night predators. In the area they studied, there were many predators awake at night, such as owls, foxes and dogs. While there were potential predators during the day, such as predatory birds and snakes, they were much rarer than the night predators. The study also suggested that hamsters were avoiding the high temperatures during the middle of the day to keep cool.

It’s not likely that the difference in behavior is due to genetics because other studies that have taken wild hamsters and put them in captivity have seen that hamsters immediately change their behavior pattern from diurnal to nocturnal. This change in behavior has also been found in other species; golden spiny mice are also diurnal in the wild but nocturnal in captivity.

This study is interesting because it questions our assumptions about why animals behave the way they do – even down to the basic label of “diurnal” and “nocturnal”. Animal behavior is more flexible than we sometimes account for in our definitions. With more studies in the future, we may be able to discover more about what makes hamsters and other animals diurnal or nocturnal.

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