A hamster’s tail – why do they have one and what is it used for?

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why do hamsters have tails

When we think of rodents, we immediately imagine rats and mice scurrying around, their long scaly tails following them in their wake. Hamsters, however, are also part of the rodent family, but their tails tend to be short, soft and stubby.

Most animals rely on their long tails for balance, but a hamster’s tail is too short to provide them with any stability. Most hamsters tails measure a mere ½ an inch in length, with the exception of a Chinese hamster, whose tail is as long as its body.

So, just why do hamsters have tails and are all breeds the same length?

What does a hamster use its tail for?

Have you ever noticed that most animals have a tail that serves a purpose? These can be wagged or whipped when happy or sad and often assist to balance and climb.

A hamster’s tail, however, is short and difficult to spot. And although there are no definite answers as to why this might be, here are some of our top theories on what a hamster might use its tail for.

  1. Hamsters (like rabbits), are burrowers by nature and live underground. They have no need to scale trees, so a long tail to help with balance is of no benefit to them. Instead, they use their tiny paws to scoop up earth and dirt. Therefore, a small tail is actually preferable as these inconspicuous stumps do not run the risk of getting in the way of the task in hand.
  2. Although hamsters prefer to live life low down, there will be times when they have to manoeuvre themselves over tricky terrain. This is where their tails can help support them with added stability.
  3. A hamster’s tail is situated in front of the bottom. Some might suggest that the reason for this is to protect this sensitive area – especially when burrowing.
  4. Just like other animals, hamsters do in fact use their tails in order to communicate. Female hamsters will raise their tails to indicate to a male hamster that they are interested in mating.

Hamsters tail length by breed

When you think of a hamster’s tail you normally picture it pink and completely hairless. In fact, it often gets likened to a grain of rice. But did you know that not all hamster breeds have the same sized tails? Here we’ll look at the length of the tail of some of the most popular pet hamsters.

Syrian Hamsters – the Syrian hamster is the largest breed and can grow up to seven inches in length. Despite their size, however, it is estimated that the tail of a Syrian hamster is no longer than half an inch – that’s over 6 times shorter than its actual body. And, if you have a long-haired Syrian hamster, then it’s not unusual for their little nubs to be completely hidden.

Russian Dwarf Hamsters – Otherwise known as Campbells, this popular breed is tiny in comparison to its Syrian cousins. Growing to between 3-4 inches in body length, their tails are proportionally the same size as a Syrian – so around a quarter of an inch. You may find their tails easier to spot, as their fur is often shorter and colored according to its markings.

Winter White Hamsters – Another dwarf breed, the Winter White, is comparable in coloration, habit and tail size to the Russian dwarf.

Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters – This is the smallest of all pet hamsters barely reaching 2 inches in size. What they lack in stature they more than make up for in speed, so if you are quick, you might just spot their tiny tails which grow to around ⅛ of an inch.

Chinese Hamsters – A Chinese hamster is different from other species of hamsters because its tail is can be almost as long as its body. This will come as no surprise if you ever seen a Chinese hamster as their features are more akin to that of a mouse or gerbil.

Do hamsters tails continue to grow?

As your hamster grows from infant to adult, their tails continue to grow with them, until they hit maturity. A common misconception regarding all types of rodents, however, is that they can shed their tails.

Unlike reptiles and amphibians who can displace part of their tail in order to protect themselves against attack, hamsters have one tail for life. Therefore, if your hamsters’ tail was to get injured, then you would need to take them straight to the vets.

Hamster tail problems

Just like humans, hamsters can be accident-prone, so it is important that we try to prevent them from getting into trouble. One of the most common tail injuries comes from placing your furry friend inside its exercise ball. You should take extra care that your hamster is well out of harm’s way when twisting around the top.

Accidents aside, the most common hamster illness is a life-threatening disease called wet tail. This bacterial infection can sometimes be hard to spot at first but be vigilant for any signs of diarrhea as well as lethargy, loss of appetite, failure to groom, sunken eyes and hunched posture. If not treated quickly it can lead to fatality.

Conclusion

Although we don’t get the opportunity to take pleasure in seeing them wag, a hamster’s tail is still an important part of their body. It protects their behinds, assists with burrowing and balance and helps them to communicate with the opposite sex. And let’s be honest, they look super cute too.

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