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May 26, 2014

Zerika
Posted by Teresa at 10:17 AM * 32 comments

zerika.jpg

Hamster in her ball
maps the world by smell and sound:
eager, alert, blind.
Zerika is sufficiently intrepid that it took us weeks to realize she can’t see much more than dark vs. light, and then only if it’s very close to her.

Actually, it was Pippin Macdonald who figured it out during a weekend visit. Patrick and I had had suspicions, but hadn’t yet put it all together. Among other things, it explains why Zeek, alone among all our hamsters, has moved all her cage furniture: she navigates by following the walls.

(Photo: Zerika, with her elegant Siamese-cat fur and her very curious nose. She loves her hamsterball.)

Socializing a blind hamster is an interesting challenge.

As far as I can tell, Zeek doesn’t think this is tragic. She thinks she’s having a good time.

Comments on Zerika:
#1 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 11:16 AM:

Yay! Hamster post! I love reading about your hamsters. Delightful beings.

#2 ::: Dave* ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 11:18 AM:

Awww!

#3 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 12:19 PM:

She's lovely!

#4 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 01:19 PM:

She's a cute one. Given her vision, I'm wondering how one might determine exactly what she can see (in fact, there are tests that make sense, but a hamster probably finds visual psychophysics even more boring than most humans do).

#5 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 01:47 PM:

Yow! Needed a unicorn chaser about now. Does putting various food-scented things near her hamster ball affect her navigation?

#6 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 02:51 PM:

Bill Stewart, #5: Oh yes. She definitely shares the widespread hamster tropism for Anything With Olive Oil On It.

#7 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 04:04 PM:

I wonder if the fact that hamsters love hamster balls so much is related to the fact that mice have a natural instinct to run in wheels?

#8 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 04:21 PM:

Benjamin Wolfe #4: Given her vision, I'm wondering how one might determine exactly what she can see

Well, that would depend on how well a normal hamster can see. (WP notes them as nearsighted and "colorblind"; I assume they mean dichromatic like most mammals.) Personally, I'd pick an item or two apiece from "interesting" and "aversive" categories (odorless and silent, natch), and start with a known-normal hamster to figure out their maximum range for distinguishing the test items. Then go back to the test hamster and work inward from that distance.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 04:24 PM:

Benjamin Wolfe: Hamsters tend to be bored by anything you want them to do, and interested in anything they're exploring on their own. They're even more interested if it smells like food, or can be used to escape from their cage.

I figure Zerika's so enthusiastic about running in her hamsterball because it combines exploration (which all hamsters like) with always having walls nearby (which she likes).

I wish there were more studies of eyesight in hamsters. I'm now wondering whether at least one of my previous hamsters, Aggie Maggie, also had vision problems.

One thing Zerika shares with Aggie Maggie: a fancy nonstandard fur color and texture. Those come with intricate breeding problems in a species that's already inbred. I've noticed that the list of potential defects from bad crossbreeding are all impossible to ignore, like being born eyeless, or having one-fourth of the pups die in utero. Nobody mentions nonlethal problems like night terrors, which some Syrians definitely have. (I should write about that.)

Poor vision could very easily go unnoticed, since it's not an essential ability for cage-bred Syrians -- the young'uns start foraging before their eyes are open.

#10 ::: hugely ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 04:24 PM:

Understand that there are people in this genre who hate you, and who do not want you here, and who will hurt you if they can. Do not tolerate their intolerance. Don’t be “fair and balanced.” Tell them they’re unwelcome. Make them uncomfortable. Shout them down. Kick them out. Fucking fight.

#11 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 05:06 PM:

#10, hugely: I recognize that; it's from the third-to-last paragraph of Nora Jemisin's angry, excellent Wiscon Guest of Honor speech, delivered last night. We weren't at Wiscon, but I read it on her blog this morning.

I suspect you didn't mean to drop it into a thread about our hamster. Could you let me know where you actually meant to post it?

#12 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 09:43 PM:

If that’s a spammer, they’ve seriously upped their comment-using-random-Internet-text game.

#13 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 09:51 PM:

TNH @9: I figure Zerika's so enthusiastic about running in her hamsterball because it combines exploration (which all hamsters like) with always having walls nearby (which she likes).

Presumably also because it resembles the Orb.

#14 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 10:30 PM:

Do keep her away from waterfalls that might lead to the Paths of the Dead, though. A hamster ball might not be as effective padding as a horse.

#15 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 04:57 AM:

So -- how does one socialize a mostly-blind hamster?

#16 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 02:49 PM:

They're even more interested if it smells like food, or can be used to escape from their cage.

Our hamster story--one morning, cage door is standing open; the hamster is gone. Six months later, I open the bin in which we store dry catfood, and there, fat and happy, is the hamster.

#17 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 03:03 PM:

Rea @16, heh. Your hamster must have thought s/he was in heaven.

#18 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 03:40 PM:

So does the ball change colours with her mood? Or is the clear/colourless the "hungry" colour, and thus constant? ;)

#19 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 03:50 PM:

#16 ::: rea

How did the hamster manage to not die of thirst?

#20 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 04:18 PM:

Nancy @ 19--I have no idea where she was getting water. She couldn't have spent 6 months in the bin--you'd think we'd have noticed. On the other hand, we were a 3-cat household in those days, and two of them at least were accomplished rodent-killers, so how she could have lurked around the house is a mystery. And those 6 months included a Michigan winter, so I'm not sure how the hamster could have gone outdoors. Maybe water from the cat bowl,evading the cats somehow, or climbing up to the sink in the dead of night?

#21 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 10:11 PM:

We had a hamster disappear completely from our last apartment in Lawrence, KS. Never found her, never found remains. At the same time a large kitchen knife and one of Jim's sneakers disappeared. We figure she took a shelter and defense when she left.

We had no cats at the time.

She was a fairly large, natural Syrian hamster (tannish with white markings).

#22 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 10:13 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @9: Nobody mentions nonlethal problems like night terrors, which some Syrians definitely have. (I should write about that.)

Yes, please.

I had a blind guinea pig. Cataracts in both eyes, nearly from birth. Only earthly differences I could see between her and the "normal" guinea pigs was that she wasn't startled by random motion in the room, and you had to brush a treat against her whiskers to let her know it was there.

Her name was Guiness. Because she was black and tan.

#23 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 10:57 PM:

Paula Helm Murray #21: At the same time a large kitchen knife and one of Jim's sneakers disappeared. We figure she took a shelter and defense

Now that is giving me some bizarre imagery... in proportion, that's a pretty dang BFS!

#24 ::: iamnothing ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2014, 08:39 AM:

I suppose socializing a blind hamster is more difficult than capitalizing one.

#25 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2014, 10:37 AM:

iamnothing @24: Here, have this internet I just happen to have lying around.

I suspect it's harder in the US than it is in the rest of the world.

#26 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2014, 02:35 PM:

TNH at 9: There's some really cool (for vision scientist values of cool) work on hamster vision that I can turn up with access to journal databases. On very quick perusal, it looks like their visual systems have been well-studied, but mostly a few decades ago (I'm looking at a paper from 1980). Their acuity is comparatively lousy - to quote the paper, "[hamsters] are nocturnal animals with a poor ability to distinguish stationary objects on the basis of visual cues."

If you'd like more, let me know and I'm happy to snag a pile of PDFs for you.

#27 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2014, 03:46 PM:

Benjamin wrote "hamster vision" and this moose immediately thought of Hamster Week and the film crew on the baggage conveyor.

This.

#28 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2014, 03:49 PM:

Well, I had to find out what "Hamster Weken" was, and whether it would actually be good for my hamster.
Turns out "Hamster Weken" actually means "The Weeks In Which You Are Encouraged to Engage in Hamstering, aka Hoarding".
Sale Days, IOW.
http://expatcatlife.blogspot.com/2011/01/where-hamster-is-verb.html

I must be getting old. Why am I the first to post this link:
http://www.hampsterdance.com/classics/originaldance.htm

#29 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2014, 04:23 PM:

John #28:

Perhaps because, for some of us, mere mention of that site is enough to get an earworm stuck in our heads?

#30 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2014, 08:28 PM:

John, it's probably not because you're getting old. It's probably because you never grew up.

#31 ::: iamnothing ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2014, 11:59 AM:

fidelio @25: thanks.

#32 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2014, 11:06 AM:

Uh, that picture...it looks like she is near the edge of a table. Take care she doesn't roll off, okay?

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