All about hamsters: Fun facts about the lovable furry creatures

World Cup fever is in the air and The Straits Times’ resident hamsters are ready to rumble.

Tiki, a winter-white pearl-coloured female, and Taka, a brown-backed white-faced male, will star in a series of videos ST’s World Cup microsite, each representing an opposing country and racing in hamster balls. The first to roll into a designated goal will be declared the victor.

The hamsters will kick off their World Cup series next week, with the Uruguay and England clash. They have been receiving good care in ST’s office, like the rodent equivalent of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and will not be harmed in the making of the videos.

Hamsters are tiny living balls of fur, which is basically what makes them, apart from our very own animal athletes, one of the most attractive choice of pets. But beyond that, hamsters themselves have a story to tell.

Hamsters through the ages

Hamsters were first discovered in 1829 in Syria, long before the first World Cup was played. It is believed that all the Syrian hamsters  originate from one female and her litter captured in the Syrian desert in the 1930s.

Yes, that little buddy of yours scurrying around the cage in the corner of your bedroom? He's a descendant of desert wanderers.

To combat the desert heat, hamsters burrowed and evolved to be nocturnal. Which explains why your dear pet is running miles on its wheel and making noise late into the night, when all you want is to catch some sleep.

Not surprising though, when you consider that its counterparts in the wild can run up to about 13km every night, looking for food.

Hamster breeds

Other than the Syrian, there are three other basic breeds of hamsters - The Russian Dwarf, Chinese and Roborovskis.

They are differentiated by physical features. For example, the Chinese are often mistaken for mice, due to their - by hamster standards - slim bodies and long tails.

The largest breed of all is a European breed that can grow up to 34cm. That is greater than the length of an A4-sized paper, and I wouldn't want one running after me.

How long can a hamster live?

In general, these rapid rodents live for only two to three years. But before you start weeping about their short life span, take note that one human year is equivalent to around 25 hamster years, or about six World Cups.

That means that your pampered pet hamster was or will be at one point technically older, maybe even wiser, than you.

Why are hamsters called "hamsters"?

The name "hamster" was derived from the German word "hamstern", which means "to hoard". This was because hamsters are literally hoarders, storing food in their cheeks and hiding them in their burrows.

Hamsters' cheek pouches are so massive, they fall to their shoulders. Mothers have even been known to hide babies in them, if they sense danger.

Hamster diet

Contrary to popular belief, hamsters are not vegetarians. While they eat seeds, fruits and vegetables, they are actually omnivores who eat meat and other foods too.

But don't go sharing your candy and chocolates with them while watching any match this World Cup. Sweet treats can be harmful and even deadly, and you would not want to kill your own pet.

Ewww! My hamster is eating its own poop!

Sometimes you might notice your hamster nibbling on its own poop. Don't worry, it knows what it's doing. It is actually absorbing nutrients that are not digested.

Yes, hamsters literally eat their own crap.

Vision problems

Hamsters have terrible eyesight. Colourblind and shortsighted, they can see up to only 15cm in front of them, and mostly rely on their sense of smell.

Hence, your furry friend is not even able to correctly perceive the distance from your bed to the floor.

"All right let me just take this one short step down..." Thud.

Hamsters are naturally clean creatures

Hamsters are self-cleaning - they are constantly grooming themselves by licking their hands then rubbing their fur.

You should not bathe your pet hamster unless truly necessary, as it may catch a cold. Hamsters are very prone to respiratory illnesses and you would not want yours to get pneumonia.

So apart from just being cute and easy to look after, hamsters are also really interesting creatures.

Bear that in mind as you watch Tiki and Taka scampering around on their four front toes and five rear toes.

You read that right. Hamsters have four front toes and five rear toes. I don't even know why.

In fact, I'm gonna go stare at Tiki and Taka now.