Hamsters are serious business.
April 19, 2011 1:01 PM   Subscribe

There are many ways to be immortal. Israel Aharoni, a Jewish biologist working in Turkish-controlled Jerusalem, imagined that his enduring legacy would come from giving Hebrew names to the animals of the Holy Land.... In the spring of 1930, Aharoni staged an expedition to the hills of Syria, near Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world. His quest was simple: he wanted to catch the rare golden mammal whose Arabic name translates roughly as 'mister saddlebags.'

And 80 years later, we have the domesticated hamster.
posted by mudpuppie (10 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
One of Aharoni’s colleagues, Saul Adler, thought that the animal might be similar enough to humans to serve as a lab animal in medical research, particularly for the study of the parasitic disease leishmaniasis, which was and still is common in the region.

I wouldn't mind a little more explanation for this aside. On what basis did Adler suppose that "Mr. Saddlebags" would be similar to humans? Did he perhaps envision a teeny-tiny man on an eensy-weensy horse?
posted by Iridic at 1:16 PM on April 19, 2011

We had a hamster for a while, it died unexpectedly. If the article is correct, it was probably from a heart attack.
posted by tommasz at 1:23 PM on April 19, 2011

My father was an early adopter of pet hamsters, in the mid-to-late 40s. It fascinates me that a species so common in captivity is so poorly known in the wild.
posted by gubo at 1:35 PM on April 19, 2011

All domestic hamsters (according to this article and the Wikipedia article) are descended from one brother-sister pair, the two surviving hamsters taken (abducted?) from their nest by Aharoni.

posted by lewedswiver at 1:46 PM on April 19, 2011

What a cool, weird little story! Considering how poorly its "natural" behavior is apparently known, how come no one has set up an artificial "natural" colony yet, with wheat fields and a farm house and lots of hidden cameras?
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:06 PM on April 19, 2011

Thanks for posting this, it's a really interesting set of facts. I had no idea hamsters were so inbred. And the fact that they're still so little studied in the wild is very surprising too!

(Although this article is an example of one of my pet peeves about some nonfiction writing, in that it's a super-interesting set of facts on its own, but the writer feels the need to dress it up with cliches and speculate about people's moods, and what they might have hoped for, perhaps, and blah blah, rather than just trusting the reader to find this stuff interesting for its own sake. For example, the cutesy fact of the Arabic name translating to "Mr Saddlebags" - interesting! But tell me what the actual Arabic name is.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:30 PM on April 19, 2011

Wow, thanks mudpuppie!
posted by ooga_booga at 2:32 PM on April 19, 2011

Golden hamster, that is.

There are four other species usually kept as pets:
Roborovski hamster;
Campbell's dwarf hamster;
Djungarian hamster; and
Chinese hamster
posted by MikeKD at 5:50 PM on April 19, 2011

In Arabic they're called أقداد oqdad, which, as far as I know, is just Arabic for "hamster." According to Wikipedia, "Mr. Saddlebags" is أبو جراب abu jirab, which could be translated "pouch daddy." Abu أبو means "X's father" and جراب means "pouch." Googling a bit, it seems to have some use as a nickname.

The Hebrew name אוגר means "collector." The name might be a play on the Arabic name (oger/oqdad) with the idea of 'poucher.'
posted by nangar at 7:15 PM on April 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

... which could be translated "pouch daddy."

Sock puppet account, here I come!
posted by Amanojaku at 8:46 AM on April 20, 2011

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