Even if you've never owned one, you've surely seen Golden Hamsters available for sale in pet stores, or scurrying around in a glass tank in a grade school classroom. Believe it or not, despite the abundance of the furry little guys, they've all got very close family ties.
The most common rodent pet, the Golden Hamster, is native to Syria. At one time, hamsters ran amok in that country; eventually, farmers grew tired of the critters digging up their root vegetables, and trained dogs to hunt them. Others found a profitable trade in hamster fur. With all those hunters and poachers in action, the hamster was thought to be extinct by the late 1920s.
But in 1930, an archaeologist named Aaron Abrahams happened upon a nest containing a rodent and 12 small babies. He carefully transported them to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where they were identified as Golden Hamsters. They were encouraged to breed under laboratory conditions, and as the first litter matured, they were interbred. By 1938, the animals were exported to France, England, and the United States as pets. In addition, because they were disease-free and bred so rapidly, the hamsters quickly became valued in cardio-vascular research.
All Golden Hamsters in captivity today can trace their roots back to that original Syrian litter.