HOW DO WE TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HAMSTER AND A MOUSE?
Both hamsters and mice are rodents. They belong to the Rodentia order, which comprises nearly 40 percent of all mammals. As rodents, they share similar characteristics. One of these is the presence of two pairs of incisors that are constantly growing. One pair of these incisors is located on the upper jaw, while the other is on the lower jaw. These incisors continuously grow as they are constantly worn due to the rodent’s natural tendency to gnaw. As rodents, they are also prolific breeders.
But hamsters and mice are two entirely different species, each with its adaptive traits, habitats, and behavioral patterns.
So, what are the differences between hamsters and mice? Let us compare and contrast these two rodents based on their size, appearance, habitat, diet, behavior, and evolution.
Hamsters and mice are small rodents. Depending on the variety, mature hamsters can grow somewhere between 5 to 13 cm and weigh about 20 to 45 grams.
Mice can either be smaller or larger than a hamster, depending on the variety. They can grow somewhere between 8 cm to 11 cm and weigh between 18 to 23 grams.
Hamsters are well known for their portly appearance. Stout bodies, very short tails that are difficult to see, fat legs, and furry ears are just some of the obvious physical characteristics of a hamster. Its fur is long, dense, and has a silky texture. It comes in different combinations of brown, white, black, and honey red. Some even have a prominent stripe running down their backs.
Mice have more variance in their physical attributes, depending on the variety. But in general, they all have the same pointed and narrow snout, round ears, and a long and scaly tail. They come in different color varieties. From black to gray to brown. They also come in albino.
Although hamsters are often regarded as house pets, they can be found in the wild. Originally, hamsters were endemic to the Mediterranean area, particularly in Syria and Greece. They are also native to northern China. Wild hamsters are generally found in warm, dry, and arid areas such as desert edges and steppes. The domesticated hamsters that have become fixtures in American homes are the descendants of the ones that were imported from Syria in the early 1900s.
Mice are hardy animals that can be found in nearly all terrains. They can be found in forests and deserts, farms, and houses. As long as there is a steady food source and small spaces that can provide shelter, protection, and breeding nest, mice will thrive. The wide distribution of mice can be attributed to three factors: their breeding proficiency, durability, and ability to hitch on human transportation such as ships and trains.
Hamsters are omnivorous. Wild hamsters subsist on seeds, nuts, and small insects. Domesticated hamsters have more dietary options since they will feed on almost any edible offered to them. This can include vegetables and fruits. Interestingly, hamsters have a particular taste and preference for peanut butter!
Contrary to popular belief, mice do not have a special taste for cheese.
Mice are generally herbivores and will eat just about anything—plant-related, from fresh produce down to food scraps. As long as their incisors and digestive systems can handle it, they will eat it.
Hamsters are mostly solitary. They will be aggressive towards any other hamster that shares living spaces with them. Hamsters are either nocturnal–active at night–or crepuscular–active at dawn and dusk. They rest a lot to conserve their energy. Wild hamsters even hibernate to cope with drops in environmental temperature. One particularly distinct hamster behavior is their tendency to burrow; They use their wide feet to dig tunnels. Tunnels dug by hamsters can be complex mazes of larger galleries interconnected by passageways and accessible via multiple entry points. This is why an ideal living space for domesticated hamsters must be filled with enough materials which they can burrow through. Their tendency to burrow is the reason why some claim that hamsters are not necessarily nocturnal. It may be possible that they conduct most of their daily activities within the safe confines of their burrows. In the wild, hamsters may even use or claim caves and tunnels made by other animals.
Mice are strictly nocturnal. They will only become active during the day when they are threatened. They will always try to avoid human contact, except for the domesticated varieties. Their foraging territories are relatively large. Despite their small size, they are very territorial.
Hamsters evolved about 16 million years ago, during the Miocene Epoch. They were originally from North Africa and Europe. They were also hamsters in Asia some 11 million years ago.
Interestingly, mice and humans can trace their common ancestry to a small rodent that scurried under the feet of the massive dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. It was a time of transition as the age of dinosaurs was at its twilight, while the age of mammals was just about to rise. When the earth was engulfed in a great Ice Age due to the consequences of the meteor impact, the large cold-blooded dinosaurs were unable to cope and died as a result. Meanwhile, the precursor rodent could hide and thrive through the long winter due to its size and basic dietary requirements. As the earth reverted to its fertile state, the precursor rodent found itself without competition and consequently evolved uninterrupted.
This precursor rodent became a template for emergent animals. As early as 75 million years ago, the ancestors of the modern mice diverged from the precursor rodent.
Questions and Answers About Mice and Hamsters
DO MICE MAKE GOOD PETS?
Yes. They are the preferred pets for those who do not have lots of space for pet animals. Domesticated mice have a good disposition and are quite intelligent enough to express their personalities and even emotions. Mice have been part of human civilization for a very long time; they have become instrumental in bio-research as test animals.
DO HAMSTERS MAKE GOOD PETS?
Yes. They are cute little creatures that can be handled well, even by small children. Hamster enthusiasts have often sponsored hamster shows where hamsters are showcased and judged for their disposition, look, and lineage like dogs.
ARE HAMSTERS BRED AS A FOOD SOURCE?
No, although they are technically edible. In Peru, the guinea pig, practically the hamster’s cousin, is eaten. They are said to be similar in texture and flavor to the chicken. They are bred like livestock.
CAN MICE BE EATEN?
Yes. In ancient times, mice are eaten for their supposed medical values. They are considered delicacies in some parts of the world.