Back to previous post: Babylon 5: A Voice in the Wilderness

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Whither Dorchester?

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

March 28, 2011

Sauvons le Grand Hamster d’Alsace
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:26 AM * 101 comments

The on-going story of the disappearance of the Giant Hamster of Alsace: Once numbered in the thousands, these ferocious hamsters are on the verge of extinction in France; driven down by urban sprawl and agricultural monoculture.

The story is that the European Union is threatening to fine France for failing to protect the last wild population of hamsters in western Europe.

They’re called “grand” hamsters because they’re around a foot long (the size of a small rabbit or large guinea pig). They seem to fill the groundhog’s ecological niche.

Comments on Sauvons le Grand Hamster d'Alsace:
#1 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 02:15 AM:

I must admit that my first instinct on reading this story was to assume that Jim was posting from a couple of days into the future.

#2 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 02:28 AM:

If this Hamster had been British, there are certain newspapers which would have been screaming about the eevul Europeans.

#3 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 04:06 AM:

Note that the hamster is not actually facing extinction, just extinction in France. Its range extends all the way to China, Mongolia and Siberia.

Is Siberian hamster.

#4 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 04:26 AM:

Siberian filigree hamster?

#5 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 04:40 AM:

Hamster d'avril quatre jours en avant?

#6 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 06:44 AM:

@1 That was my first thought, too. I'm still unconvinced - but only because I'm at the point in the workday morning where I have no more time to read the internets....

#7 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 06:46 AM:

les cris féroces des hamsters français
blessent mon coeur avec une langueur monotone.

#8 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 07:00 AM:

Vous n'aurez pas l'Alsace et la Lorraine!

#9 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 07:15 AM:

Oh, dear, I am getting ideas.

The furry alternate universe I write in has a place called Rain Island. It develops from some of the historical uncertainties about the development of Canada, and there are plausible reasons for a French-Canadian aspect to Rain Island.

Anarchist furry hamster commandos speaking French...

Sacré bleu!

#10 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 07:56 AM:

My first thought was that the French were hunting them to extinction with a better-known animal from the same province.

#11 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 08:18 AM:

Hmm. Glancing through the linked articles, this seems like a classic situation: A "wild" species had adapted to a particular human-built environment (in this case, fields of cabbage and/or alfalfa). And then, for our own reasons, we packed up that environment and took it away....

#12 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 08:29 AM:

David Harmon @11: But you have to consider that the hamsters were living there before it was fields of alfalfa - while it was grassland. It's just that they managed to adapt to the alfalfa and are not able to adapt to what's replacing it.

#13 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 08:45 AM:

dcb #12:

From Wikipedia:
In prehistoric times, Alsace was inhabited by nomadic hunters, but by 1500 BC, Celts began to settle in Alsace, clearing and cultivating the land. By 58 BC, the Romans had invaded and established Alsace as a center of viticulture. To protect this highly valued industry, the Romans built fortifications and military camps that evolved into various communities which have been inhabited continuously to the present day. While part of the Roman Empire, Alsace was part of Germania Superior.

It looks like the hamsters have a typical yearly reproductive cycle, so 3500 years represents a lot of adaptation!

This is part of an ongoing theme in ecology: For the last few millennia, the primary selection factor for anything big enough to throw a rock at, has been compatibility with humans.

#14 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 08:46 AM:

French Hamsterdance?

#15 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 09:55 AM:

Perhaps make them a tourist attraction, and set up an annual ceremony wherein, if the Grand Hamster of Alsace sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.

#16 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 10:02 AM:

Thena:

The links appear to be genuine, and are not date-stamped April 1st. But after the tree octopodes, I'm feeling wary...

#17 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 10:28 AM:

"They seem to fill the groundhog’s ecological niche".

I object to the phrasing of this sentence. It is insufficiently Eurocentric. This is the OLD World, we were here FIRST. The groundhog, whatever that is, clearly fills the hamster's niche.

#18 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 10:36 AM:

re 13: Well, another factor in that is that there's a sense in which the wildlife preservation people stand in opposition to Darwin, not because they are creationists, but because they to some degree stand against selection at all. Insofar as human will comes to dominate whether species survive or not, we have entered into some curious territory (see also, for instance, the efforts to "restore" the American chestnut and elm).

#19 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 11:16 AM:

"It's got a vicious streak a mile wide!"

#20 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 12:04 PM:

C Wingate @ 18... My wearing glasses also stands in the way of Evolution.

#21 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 12:26 PM:

For those still in doubt, EOL says it's real.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 12:51 PM:

It's real. I've been desultorily following this one for years.

Is anyone else reminded of the Dread Rabbit of Caer Bannog?

#23 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 12:55 PM:

In re David Harmon @13, C. Wingate @18: The relatively recent book 1491 does a deep survey of the past thirty years of new-world archeology to drive home the point that the 'virgin' forests of fabled productivity the English east-coast settlers found was, in all likelihood, a long-term human-managed, human-selected ecosystem halfway to an orchard. Likewise, it's looking more and more like the Amazonian rainforests were (until 90% of the population died off in the 1400s) similarly managed, planted, and cultivated for maximum productivity and convenience to humans.

It's just that the people doing the cultivating then found biodiversity to be a positive, productive good -- there's a Mesoamerican farming method that's persisted into modern times that involves farming 20-30 different species all in the same field, interlocking, because the plants (and the animals/insects those plants feed, attract, and encourage) get into positive feedback loops with each other and maintain the productivity of the land.

The interesting consequence of this is that some of the early observed 'bounty' of ecosystems that European North-American settlers remarked upon were in fact unstable species break-outs because of the previously-managed ecosystems going wildly haywire. There are strong indications, for example, that passenger pigeons were not terribly common up the Eastern seaboard until after the the great epidemics.

There has also been some interesting work on the early phases of dog domestication that suggest the first steps were not consciously selected by humans, rather that the wolves with brain chemistry and stress-tendencies most suited to living densely on and near human middens started down the same trail we later found in Russian fox-dogs, pre-domesticating themselves, in effect, in perhaps as little as ten or fifteen dog generations.

#24 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 01:15 PM:

Nothing stands in the way of evolution. Not even hitting the planet with a 10-kilometer asteroid will slow it down.

#25 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 01:15 PM:

Teresa @22 -- definitely. That butter-wouldn't-melt-in-its-mouth look doesn't fool me!

#26 ::: marc sobel ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 01:22 PM:

Re Serge @20 Are you referring to Dorothy Parker "Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses" with contemporary gender sensibilities ?

http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/dorothy_parker.htm

#27 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 01:40 PM:

James Macdonald @24: One would think that the asteroid would seem to increase the pace of evolution, since the sudden increase in selection pressure would favor only those genesets capable of surviving past the event and its consequences.

However, that would restrict the resulting gene pool, and evolution tends to work based on available variations.

Once you get a reasonable number of variations back, though, you'd have the organism(s) fanning out into vacated ecological niches (vacated by beasties which did not adapt and died), which would also appear to be a speeding up of evolution.

Hmm. Did I just prove your point? First you have a restriction of forms, then an explosion... maybe I'm just saying 'slowing it down' isn't the right frame of reference.

#28 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 01:56 PM:

marc sobel @ 26... I was referring to the increased likelihood of one's demise if you can't see where you're going, or what's about to eat you.

#29 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 02:09 PM:

#23 "There has also been some interesting work on the early phases of dog domestication that suggest the first steps were not consciously selected by humans."

I first read about this in Dogs by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger.

#30 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 02:10 PM:

Renee @27

That would be if you thought evolution had a pace, which it doesn't.

Asteroid impact : evolution :: defenestration : gravity

Now, being tossed out a window will increase the rate at which you fall (just not the "pace of gravity," because there's no such animal), and an asteroid impact will increase the rate of extinction...

#31 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 02:28 PM:

Since no one else has seen fit to mention it...

The markings on their spokes-hamster are adorable! (Also, the rest of said spokes-hamster.)

#32 ::: Jon Hendry ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 02:33 PM:

Possibly related to the decline: http://www.regretsy.com/2011/01/21/csi-my-hammy/

#33 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 03:04 PM:

Because I read that first sentence a little too quickly:

In prehistoric times, Alsace was inhabited by nomadic hamsters, but by 1500 BC, moles began to settle in Alsace, clearing and cultivating the land. By 58 BC, the badgers had invaded and established Alsace as a center of viticulture. To protect this highly valued industry, the badgers built fortifications and military camps that evolved into various communities which have been inhabited continuously to the present day. While part of the Badger Empire, Alsace was part of Hamsteria Superior.

#34 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 03:05 PM:

C. Wingate: They don't stand against "Darwin", any more than insulin does, or surgery, or antisepsis ante-surgery.

We are aware of the process, that allows us to account for it in our actions. We can't escape the equation, but we can "select" inside it.

Unless you are saying that us fouling the nest and killing things off is, "normal", and not to be worked against, which is the underlying message buried in the idea that limiting of the effect of the, "curious territory" you are describing.

It's curious because we have just that ability: to so quickly alter the landscape, and to ameliorate that alteration.

#35 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 04:19 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 22

I think there might be a case to be made that the Dread Rabbit of Caerbannog originally derives from a giant hamster archetype.

According to the Wikipedia article on the Dread Rabbit there's a parallel in the Roman de Renard, where a fox boasts of its bravery in fighting off a hare. And the Roman de Renard is apparently based on folk traditions from Alsace. So my theory is that in an earlier tradition the fox fights off a hamster; but later versions change this to a hare, so as to widen the appeal of the story to a wider, non-Alsatian audience.

#36 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 04:52 PM:

This seems like a good place to drop in a comment about the artwork of Charlene Taylor D'Alessio. She has a full line of historical and fictional figures presented as hamsters, and if Teresa doesn't already have some of them I'm sure she'll want some.

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 05:06 PM:

The trouble with defining "well adapted to the environment" as "gets along with humans" is that it so easily becomes "species we can't get rid of no matter how hard we try." Rats and cockroaches are all very well in their place, but I'd prefer to live on a more diverse planet.

Hamsters:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Cladus: Chordata Craniata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Classis: Mammalia
Subclassis: Theria
Infraclassis: Placentalia
Ordo: Rodentia
Subordo: Myomorpha
Superfamilia: Muroidea

The Muridae superfamily includes rats, mice, voles, hamsters, lemmings, and various other small rodents. Hamsters fall into two of its families.

One of these is the Calomyscidae family, which contains one genus, Calomyscus, the mouse-like hamsters. There are eight species of mouse-like hamsters. The common names of five of them are "the mouse-like hamster" (hereafter "t.m.l.h."), which is why we have scientific nomenclature:

Calomyscus bailwardi, t.m.l.h. (Zagros Mountains, Iran)
Calomyscus baluchi, Baluchi mouse-like hamster (Baluchistan)
Calomyscus elburzensis, t.m.l.h. (NE Iran)
Calomyscus grandis, t.m.l.h. (Teheran province)
Calomyscus hotsoni, t.m.l.h. (Baluchistan)
Calomyscus mystax, Afghan mouse-like hamster (Turkmenistan, Bolshoi Balkan Mts.)
Calomyscus tsolovi, t.m.l.h. (Syria)
Calomyscus urartensis, Urartsk mouse-like hamster (Azerbaijan)

The Cricetidae family includes voles, hispids, tenrecs, and the subfamily Cricetinae, which are the rest of the hamsters. Within the Cricetinae are the genera Allocricetulus, Cansumys, Cricetulus, Cricetus, Mesocricetus, Phodopus, and Tscherskia, thus:

Allocricetulus curtatus, Mongolian hamster
Allocricetulus eversmanni, Hamster (Orenburg)

Cansumys canus, Gansu hamster (China)

Cricetulus alticola, Tibetan dwarf hamster
Cricetulus barabensis, Chinese striped dwarf hamster
Cricetulus griseus, Chinese dwarf hamster
Cricetulus kamensis, Kam dwarf hamster
Cricetulus longicaudatus, Long-tailed dwarf hamster
Cricetulus migratorius, Gray dwarf hamster
Cricetulus sokolovi, Dwarf hamster (Western Mongolia)

Cricetus cricetus, Black-bellied hamster, a.k.a. the Great Hamster of Alsace

Mesocricetus auratus, Golden hamster (Syria, Brooklyn)
Mesocricetus brandti, Brandts hamster (Turkey)
Mesocricetus newtoni, Romanian hamster
Mesocricetus raddei, Ciscaucasian hamster

Phodopus campbelli, Campbell's Hamster (NE Mongolia)
Phodopus roborovskii, Desert hamster (Nan Shan Mts., China)
Phodopus sungorus, Dzhungarian hamster (Semipalatinsk)

Tscherskia triton, Greater long-tailed hamster (China, Korea)

Note: There have been arguments over whether the Chinese dwarf hamster, Cricetulus griseus, and the Chinese striped dwarf hamster, Cricetulus barabensis, aren't really the same species; and within these, further arguments over whether the Chinese striped dwarf hamster is a subspecies of the Chinese dwarf hamster (in which case its name would be Cricetulus griseus barabensis), or vice-versa (in which case it's Cricetulus barabensis griseus).

If you're interested in this sort of thing, I recommend Wikispecies, which tends to have a bit more information, and Discover Life, which has nifty little maps of the different species' ranges.

#38 ::: Laughingrat ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 05:46 PM:

Ah, it's nice to see Cousin Antoine looking so fit and dapper.

In re: #9--

Anarchist furry hamster commandos speaking French...

Ms. Tiger, I would read that book. Vive la résistance!

#39 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 05:48 PM:

Praisegod Barebones, I can see that theory, though C. cricetus actually has a fair-sized range, and used to have a bigger one: DiscoverLife.org, Wikipedia. The question that's now bothering me is why hamsters don't turn up in old beast fables. Is that just an Anglophone thing, or are they also missing from Continental beast fables?

Another thing I find interesting about C. cricetus is that not only is it the biggest of the hamsters, it's the only ones whose native range is lush, well-watered, and productive. Maybe that's tied up with its aggressiveness.

Come to think of it, Tscherskia triton, one of the other hamster species that lives in productive areas, is said to be in the habit of standing up on its hind legs and screaming, so it's got some aggressiveness in its makeup too. And Syrian hamsters, Mesocricetus aureus, are quiet and peaceable unless there's another Syrian hamster in their territory, in which case they're obliged to fight.

Huh. Hamsters are creatures of economy.

#40 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 08:03 PM:

Lee @36: Not really my cup of tea. What I do like are Janis Mitchell's Hamster Ballet, Hamster Opera, and Hamster History of Britain series. There used to be sample illustrations all over the web, but they've largely disappeared. It's probably a copyright thing. Some that remain:

The Death of Nelson at Trafalgar
cover, Hamster Ballet
Rather murky samples from all three books.
L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune
The Firebird
Swan Lake

#41 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 08:06 PM:

One could certainly tell the story "Hans My Hedgehog" (Grimm #108) as "Hans My Hamster."

It might even work better.

#43 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 08:38 PM:

Thanks, for reminding me that I have the complete "Storyteller" DVD set, which includes an adaptation of "Hans My Hedgehog".

#44 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 09:25 PM:

I'm surprised we don't have a population of feral hamsters in the United States, as many pets as must have escaped over the years.

One of our grandkids' hamsters escaped, only to be recaptured 6 months later, plump and well-fed, inside a bin of dry catfood . . .

#45 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 09:40 PM:

TNH @22, after watching the video, I'm reminded mostly of Pokémon, or maybe CS Lewis's Reepicheep.

#46 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 10:09 PM:

Coming soon, on the Skiffy Channel...
"Meghamster!"

#47 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 10:39 PM:

Didn't some of them migrate to the Netherlands and build a hamster dam?

#48 ::: grackle ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 11:35 PM:

My first thought was to wonder about hamster confit

#49 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 12:02 AM:

Re #47

Didn't some of them migrate to the Netherlands and build a hamster dam?

On which they promptly planted tulips. These Dutch hamsters were also adept at preserving fruit, thus leading to their main exports being famed in song.

(Surely you've heard of "Tulips and Hamster Jam"?)

#50 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 01:21 AM:

Teresa #37: The trouble with defining "well adapted to the environment" as "gets along with humans" is that it so easily becomes "species we can't get rid of no matter how hard we try." Rats and cockroaches are all very well in their place, but I'd prefer to live on a more diverse planet.

"Just rats and cockroaches" is what happens if we keep playing 800-pound gorilla, a.k.a., "this is why we can't have nice things". The flip side of that is that if we do want to have songbirds and butterflies around (much less giant hamsters), or even keep our own supply chain working (agriculture is ecology too)... then we need to do stuff to maintain the larger ecology. That includes both learning how to do that maintenance, and restraining the less farsighted members of our own species.

#51 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 01:32 AM:

rea #44: Well, I have heard of houses being infested with (ordinary) hamsters, gerbils, or even guinea pigs. But outside such sheltered environments, loose hamsters would be competing for basically the same niches as rats and mice. Those latter have had much longer to adapt to our cities, including populations that inhabit not only our houses, but streets, tunnels (sewer, subway, etc), parks, and other outdoor locations. When you've got one of those pretty golden dwarf hamsters on a city sidewalk, next to a mouse that's camo'ed for concrete and soot, guess which one gets eaten by a feral cat? (Let alone behavioral adaptation to stuff like auto traffic and trash bins!)

#52 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 04:02 AM:

Not Hamsters, but Apocalypse Meow catches something of the look, and the animated version is a striking piece of work.

Warning: this is not cute. You do not mess with these bunnies. We're talking hard-core military action fiction.

#53 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 06:23 AM:

re 40: We have the opera and ballet books (the ballet one is the best, IMO) but I think we missed the history one.

#54 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 07:10 AM:

re 34: You apparently did not understand me. What I was trying to say was that at a certain macro level (generally around the species/subspecies level) humanity has claimed the job of deciding what is selected-- which is to say, given the negative way this works in Darwinian evolution, deciding what will die out. And largely the decision is against dying out, measured at that level. Snail darter threatened by dam? Well, we move the fish to a different river. Spotted owls threatened by barred owls? Well, shoot some of the latter. Trees threatened by diseases? Well, breed resistant varieties-- indeed, in the case of the chestnut, hybridize with a non-native variety. I'm not saying this is bad, and actually the underlying idea is something entirely different, which is to say, it isn't always about politics. It's really about religion.

#55 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 10:39 AM:

TNH, 39: I am unaware of any mentions of hamsters in Old French literature. For what it's worth.

#56 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 11:05 AM:

TexAnne @ 55... But more recent oeuvres such as Dumas's "The Three Mouseketeers" featured evil Milady de Hamster.

#57 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 12:24 PM:

TexAnne @55, that's exactly the kind of thing I was wondering about. I'm nowhere near the scholar that you are, but I've been wandering around loose in medieval culture and literature for decades now, and I don't recall any mentions of hamsters.

#58 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 12:43 PM:

TNH, 57: I'm not the scholar I was, but I'm sure I'd have noticed a hamster! There is also a startling lack of rats; I won't swear there isn't one in the Roman de Renart, but it's certainly not a major player. I don't know German lit well enough to know if the Pied Piper is a C19 invention, but he has no cognates in French lit. (If I were a cultural historian, I'd be pricking my ears right now. As it is, I hope somebody more knowledgeable will say something.)

#59 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 01:01 PM:

There are rats and moles and squirrels in heraldry, but no hamsters. I think that's a significant omission. Heraldry is fond of canting (making visual puns on names), and there are quite a few cities, towns, and villages whose names end in -ham.

Other common names for the species: German barmaus, "bear mouse." Dutch koerenwolf or korenwolf, "corn wolf" or "grain wolf." Russian khomiak, "hamster."

#60 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 01:06 PM:

TexAnne @58: If I were a cultural historian, I'd be doing the same.

Does anyone here have access to the folklore motif index?

#61 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 01:21 PM:

The funeral brass of Sir Roger Hamsterley, while it includes a great many creatures, does not include hamsters.

#62 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 01:39 PM:

Jim, you're enjoying making me hunt for that, aren't you?

I can't find Sir Roger Hamsterley or his funeral brass. Ralph Hamsterley's funeral brass isn't hard to find, but it's ... certainly a memorable specimen.

#63 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 01:43 PM:

Is there any chance that's a mindo, and you crossed up Ralph Hamsterley with Sir Roger de Coverley?

My head is now full of dancing hamsters.

#64 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 02:03 PM:

Very likely I did mix them up.

#65 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 02:07 PM:

Hmmm... is the "little fox" on Roger Hamsterley's brass actually meant to be a hamster?

#66 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 02:27 PM:

rea@44:

I'm surprised we don't have a population of feral hamsters in the United States, as many pets as must have escaped over the years.

I'd wager that this is something kept in check by America's feral cat population.

from the link: Britain has an estimated 7 million pet cats and 1 million ferals. By comparison, the United States has approximately 60 million pet cats and 60 million ferals.

That's a lot of pu...potential predators for escaped hamsters.

#67 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 02:31 PM:

Is it possible that the hamster was not differentiated from mice? "The mice in Egypt walk on two feet, as do the Alpine mice."

#68 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 03:05 PM:

re 66: If some of those feral cats would kindly come to my neighborhood and get to work on the squirrels, we would be much obliged. We'll even take them in at night.

#69 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 03:13 PM:

C.Wingate #68:

You can have my next-door neighbors' four cats, which are not feral, but free-range, and which have done remarkable damage to the local bird population in addition to completely, er, changing the soil balance of our garden--it's now much more organic than previously, but not in a good way.

#70 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 03:47 PM:

Last year I told my sister about the coyotes who live in my area.

She occasionally volunteers at a bird sanctuary on one of LI's barrier islands.

She wondered if I could bring some coyotes with me on one of my visits back east, so she could introduce them to the island to deal with the feral cats.

#69: My dog will happily help you deal with the cat poop problem. Directly, not by attacking the cats.

#71 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 04:33 PM:

Jim, #65: Not with that nose, it isn't.

#72 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 04:41 PM:

Jim, the beast you linked to could as easily be C. cricetus as a fox, but it could be several other beasts as well.

"The mice in Egypt walk on two feet, as do the Alpine mice" is suggestive, and the current ranges of several hamster species aren't all that far from Egypt; but jirds and gerbils are also a possibility.

#73 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 04:52 PM:

TNH, 63: I see your dancing hamsters, and raise you hamsters dressed as games, murdering each other. AAAAUGH.

#74 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 05:56 PM:

Perhaps a hamster in a fox suit? Hamsters are well-known for playing dress-up.

#75 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 06:06 PM:

Rea @44, we don't have a population of escaped Syrian hamsters for the same reason they make such good pets: unless you're another Syrian hamster, they're friendly, peaceable, and unwary.

Jim's elder daughter caught an escaped hamster at her college because it was cheerfully trotting down the middle of a paved walkway in full daylight, rather than lurking in the shrubbery or digging a burrow. Jessica Wells, who runs the Hamster House operation in Inwood, our old neighborhood at the north end of Manhattan, acquired her first hamster because she spotted him crossing Broadway (!). She went and got a shoebox, he obligingly walked into it, she named him Kaiser Wilhelm, and they were best friends for life.

Syrians can be lovely little critters, but if you're a predator, their name is lunch.

#76 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 07:45 PM:

Teresa @ 75...

They say the neon lights are bright
On Broadway
They say there's always magic in the air
But when you're walkin' down the street
And you ain't had enough to eat

#77 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 08:30 PM:

Facing extinction, the brave Grand Hamsters have established a Self-Defense Force, seen here for the first time, with an eye to creating a separate state for their kind.

#78 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 08:57 PM:

Why does all this talk of hamsters make me think of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick? I can see rewriting the book as "The Hamster That Roared", perhaps....

#79 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 09:05 PM:

Your Mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries!

#80 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 10:08 PM:

But I like hamsters; and elderberries, too.

#81 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 10:37 PM:

Teresa: Yes, but would you want your father to marry one?

#82 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 11:01 PM:

Serge #79: I once saw a blogger try to pre-emptively invoke that on himself (as in "go ahead, mock me") before spouting some "controversial" (== "stupid") position.

I responded with "Eh, your hamster smells of elderberries" and went on to cutting up his argument.

#83 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2011, 12:31 AM:

David Harmon @ 82... By the way, at a recent meeting of our SF club, Connie Willis told us that the only people who ever visit that castle are Monty Python fans.

#84 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2011, 12:32 AM:

"Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!"
- 1972's Night of the Lepus

#85 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2011, 03:53 PM:

From The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Jack Zipes, tr. The Little Hamster From the Water.

#86 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 09:10 AM:

An elderberry-scented hamster would be an improvement. They're cleanly animals, but they kinda smell like cheese.

#87 ::: Andrew Woode ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 11:04 AM:

Jim Macdonald @ 85 - re the Little Hamster from the Water - can anyone track down the original title of the story? Lists of the German titles don't seem to correspond, and I can't seem to find a searchable full German text.

#88 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 11:37 AM:

Muenster hamsters, Teresa?

#89 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 11:49 AM:

Andrew Woode --

This source translates it as "The Sea-hare" (Grimm #191), and according to the German version of the same site, it is also "Das Meerhäschen". No hamsters after all, alas. But as noted upthread, they'd certainly fit the stories.

#90 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 12:05 PM:

Serge @88:

Actually, it's more complicated than that. An alternate name for the common Syrian hamster is the "golden hamster". This is actually an eggcorn for the "Gouda hamster", the original appellation of the type, which is derived from its distinctly cheesy fragrance.

Although George Robert Waterhouse, an Englishman, is credited with cataloging and naming the Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) in 1839, this is the usual result of the victors writing the history books.

The actual history of the Gouda hamster and Westerners starts slightly earlier, during the Aleppo plague of 1827. A Dutch doctor named Jan van den Melkvederen, who had been traveling in the area while pursuing his hobby of hat-collecting, was one of the unsung heroes of the outbreak. In a terribly romantic turn of events, he married a milliner whose life he had saved and went native. Though he never learned the local language, and his wife was not able to understand his Dutch, their union was by all accounts a happy one. Their house in Aleppo became a gathering center for Westerners passing through the area.

Now, Jan van den Melkvederen was from Zuid-Holland, and although he adapted well to the other customs of his adopted land, he was forever homesick for Dutch cheeses, particularly those from Gouda. It was his nostalgia for them that caused him to capture and breed hamsters, selecting for the fragrance that so reminded him of his homeland.

Like most Europeans traveling in the area, Waterhouse stayed at the van den Melkvederen household. There he saw Jan's Gouda hamsters, stole one, and hid it in his tea-box when he left the city. Although the poor beast survived, it was forever scented of Darjeeling after that.

When Waterhouse, after an ill-advised pot of tea and infused hamster droppings, was attempting to remember what van den Melkvederen had called the hamster, he could not quite recall it. And the hamster itself was no help, being by this point entirely redolent of tea. Waterhouse's best recollection was "golden", and that's what he translated into Latin for the beast's proper name.

Of course, the Wikipedia article includes none of this information. Typical.

#91 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 12:59 PM:

abi #90: <jawdrop> "Why, yesterday I didn't know any of that!"

#92 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 02:10 PM:

David Harmon @91:
Why, yesterday I didn't know *any* of that!

Neither did I.

#93 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 02:21 PM:

The things that one discovers in the Abipedia...

#94 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 04:28 PM:

abi (90): That belongs on one of those "your homework done for free!" sites, along with Dave Bell's writeup on Haggis Hounds.

#95 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 12:20 AM:

abi@92: I still don't.

#96 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 02:00 AM:

90
It sounds so reasonable, too.

#97 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 02:14 AM:

Mary @94

Would the site pay me?

#98 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 09:43 AM:

Dave Bell (97): I meant a spoof site, so probably not.

(it's 'Mary Aileen', not 'Mary' :)

#99 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 02:07 PM:

Dave, #97: I think you'd have to take your payment in schadenfreude. But wouldn't it feel good knowing that you were contributing to unethical students getting what they deserve?

#100 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 10:06 AM:

Amazing! Fantastic!

Abi, I read that aloud to Lucius. He looked thoughtful.

#101 ::: Lloyd Sederer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2011, 11:01 AM:

Do you have any updated information since June 2011 when European court ruled in favor of les grands hamsters?
Was there an appeal by the French government? If so, what is status of appeal?
many thanks

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.