Wednesday 30 October 2019

History of the Golden Hamster: 5. The rejected hamster

Domestication of the Golden Hamster was a contingent event: contingent on Israel Aharoni being asked to collect hamsters to replace the Chinese hamster; contingent on their capture, rearing and breeding; contingent on their suitability as a host for leishmaniasis, and contingent on their attractiveness and suitability as a domestic pet. Had they not been suitable for research on a nasty human disease or unable to be bred in the laboratory they would soon have been discarded by Saul Adler. Indeed that is exactly what happened to another species of hamster collected by Aharoni in Syria for Adler.

The standard animal for leishmaniasis research was the Chinese Hamster. As I wrote previously Adler imported them from the Far East since his animal house was unable to breed them. There has been some discussion of whether Adler knew there were two species, including the Golden Hamster, in the Middle East. However, it is quite clear from from Adler’s account written in 1948 that it was Cricetulus phaeus that he asked Aharoni to bring back alive, a species closely related to the Chinese Hamster (then Cricetulus griseus) and, therefore, perhaps likely to be suitable as a host for Leishmania. This is what Adler wrote:

Prof. Aharoni undertook to bring specimens of Cricetulus phaeus for our work. In addition to getting specimens of Cricetulus phaeus (which were unsatisfactory because they did not breed in captivity), Prof. Aharoni brought back a litter of eight golden hamsters collected near Aleppo…

So, because the Golden Hamster was found easy to breed and to be a suitable host for Leishmania, that species was retained and maintained in Jerusalem. Mesocricetus (then Cricetus) auratus was in: the smaller Cricetulus phaeus was out.

Cricetulus phaeus has now been lumped into Cricetulus migratorius and is known as the Grey (or Gray in the U.S.A.) Dwarf Hamster. It has a wide distribution from Eastern Europe to Mongolia. The Chinese Hamster is now the Striped Dwarf Hamster, Cricetulus barabensis, formerly griseus, found from Russia to Korea and as far south as Shanghai.

Both species have been bred regularly in captivity. Indeed Chinese Hamsters are fairly standard laboratory animals and sometimes seen in pet shops. Why Adler’s animal house was unable to breed either is not known, since the methods of introducing males and females used for Golden Hamsters also work for these much smaller species.

Adler S. 1948. Origin of the Golden Hamster Cricetus auratus as a laboratory animal. Nature 162, 256-257.

Kryštufek B. 2017. Family Cricetidae (part). Pp 282-283 in: Wilson DE, Lacher TE, Mittermeier RA (editors). Handbook of Mammals of the World, Volume 7, Rodents II. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

Haslauer R. 2017. Family Cricetidae (part). Pp 283-285 in: Wilson DE, Lacher TE, Mittermeier RA (editors). Handbook of Mammals of the World, Volume 7, Rodents II. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

Hobbs KR. 1987. Hamsters. In, The UFAW Handbook on the Care and Management of Laboratory Animals, edited by TB Poole, pp 377-392. Harlow: Longman.

Monday 28 October 2019

History of the Golden Hamster: 4. Closely-related hamster species

The genus, Mesocricetus, to which the Golden or Syrian Hamster is assigned has, at present, four recognised species living in south-eastern Europe and the Middle East.

I have scanned, separated and labelled the illustrations of the four species in Volume 7 of Handbook of Mammals of the World (a superb series now completed in nine volumes—a true work of scholarship and a publishing triumph for Lynx Edicions). The species in some respects are similar but there are distinct morphological and genetic differences. Experiments on sexual preferences have shown that individuals do recognise potential mates of their own species. They seem to good and proper ‘biological species’ although it remains possible that one of them may be ‘split’ at some time as more data accumulate.

Illustrations extracted from Volume 7 of Mammals of the World
The Golden Hamster is also known as the Syrian Hamster and
Brandt's Hamster as the Turkish Hamster

All are solitary, building burrows in a mixture of open habitats often including agricultural fields. The burrows vary in detail but a vertical or near vertical shaft leads from the entrance to a horizontal shaft from which lead food stores, nest chamber and latrines. The nest chamber may be deep—as the labourers found when digging out the nest of a Golden Hamster in 1930.

The propensity of hamsters to eat agricultural crops and their rapid rate of reproduction (females mature at four weeks and can produce a litter averaging nine pups per month) have led to some being considered as agricultural pests in the past.

They feed variously on seeds, green vegetation and tubers along with insects. The massive cheek pouches which extend down each side of the body can be stuffed with food during forays to the surface and then emptied, using pressure from the paws, into underground caches. Time spent on the surface and exposure to predators is, therefore, minimised. Hamstering is a good term to describe hotel guests who stuff their bags with food from the breakfast buffet before they set off for a day with lunch not provided—and for some guests even when it is.

The ranges of the species are shown below:

Distribution of the four species of Mesocricetus. Modified from Yigit et al.
The range of M. brandti extends to north-west Iran

The current conservation status varies from ‘Least Concern’ (M. raddei) through ‘Near-Threatened’ (M. brandti and M.newtoni) to ‘Vulnerable’ (M. auratus), the latter on grounds of small range, habitat loss and population decline.

Kryštufek B. 2017. Family Cricetidae (part). Pp 282-283 in: Wilson DE, Lacher TE, Mittermeier RA (editors). Handbook of Mammals of the World, Volume 7, Rodents II. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

Yigit N, Çolak E, Gattermann R, Neumann K, Özkurt, S ,Gharkeloo MM, Fritzsche P,  Çolak R. 2006. Morphological and Biometrical Comparisons of Mesocricetus Nehring, 1898 (Mammalia: Rodentia) species distributed in the Palaearctic Region. Turkish Journal of Zoology 30, 291-299.

Friday 25 October 2019

History of the Golden Hamster: 3. Collection of live wild hamsters in 1971, 1978 and 1999 and studies on them

Given that the collection of wild Golden Hamsters that led to all individuals in labs, zoos and homes being derived from one female was in 1930, it is not surprising that attempts have been made to obtain more from the wild in order to test for any signs of inbreeding or domestication.

Since 1930 there have been two successful attempts to capture, maintain and breed Golden Hamsters. There ahe also been other reports between 1949 and 1986. However, the numbers were very small and breeding attempts, if made, were unsuccessful.

Michael Ross Murphy (1971) and William Duncan (1978)

Michael Murphy with a newly-caught
hamster in 1971.
This is a photograph used to illustrate
Murphy's 1985 paper. This colour version
is from his obituary online.
The first successful collection and then breeding was in 1971 by the man who wrote the history of the hamster in 1985—the late Michael Ross Murphy. This is what he wrote:

When I started working with Syrian hamsters in 1967, there had been until then only three documented captures of wild hamsters in history—one before 1781, one around 1839 and one in 1930. Also, all domesticated golden hamsters were descendants of the three sibling survivors of Aharoni's ten orphans. So, to satisfy my own curiosity and obtain wild hamsters for comparative research…my wife, Janet, and I made a reconnaissance expedition to Aleppo, Syria, in May/June, 1971… In all, 13 wild hamsters were captured and 12 of them (four males and eight females) were brought back to the United States…Descendants of the animals I captured in Syria are being maintained by Andrew Lewis, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. In 1978, Bill Duncan, Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas, made the historically third capture of live wild hamsters, returning two females to the United States.

Michael Murphy who died last year at the age of 73 was a psychologist and the footnote* is extracted from an obituary posted online by an undertaker in San Antonio, Texas.

I have found papers describing work on these wild hamsters, the first by Murphy himself on how males and females discriminate between potential mates of their own or closely-related species. Other papers used these hamsters for studies on amyloid protein. Bill Duncan, to whom Murphy referred, used ‘recently-wild’ and classical inbred strains in immunological research. However, after the early 1980s I have seen no further reference and I do not know if animals bred from the animals Murphy and Duncan collected have been maintained as a pure line at NIH or elsewhere. Nor do I know if any of the offspring of these wild animals or their crosses with the old inbred stock went to private collectors, the pet trade or zoos.

Rolf Gattermann (1999)

Rolf Gattermann with Golden Hamster
In 1999 the late Rolf Gattermann (1949-2006) with colleagues from the University of Halle in Germany and collaborators from the University of Aleppo, caught another group of Golden Hamsters and studied their habitat and burrows. In all 22 hamsters (19 from the expedition and 3 from the University of Aleppo) were taken back to Germany to form a new breeding stock for behavioural and genetic studies.

With all hamsters before 1999 being descended from a single mother there were two questions everybody was asking: was there inbreeding depression or changes in morphology and physiology as a result of domestication. The availability of new hamsters from the wild allowed these questions to be answered by Gattermann’s group. In their words:

There is evidence that genetic variation among lab and wild hamsters has only minor consequences on parameters such as body mass, body measurements, organ weights and behaviour.

However, the reproductive success of original laboratory male hamsters was lower than that of wild-derived males when tested with both types of female. no matter the genetic history of the mother, the litter size was markedly lower with a lab male as the father compared with a wild father. The physiological mechanism involved remains unknown.

After Rolf Gattermann’s death from cancer in 2006 at the age of 57, his team of collaborators, who had made Halle a centre of small rodent research, continued publishing their work and started new strands, including field work on the Golden Hamster in southern Turkey. One interesting paper, begun while Gattermann was still alive, reported that while in the laboratory male and female hamsters (whether derived from old line or from newly-caught individuals) are nocturnal, in the wild female hamsters are diurnal. They speculated that a balance in the environment whereby nocturnal predators (owls and foxes) are a more potent threat than diurnal ones (birds-of-prey and snakes) may be responsible:

Our observations indicate that the control of activity rhythms in hamsters is much more complex and more sensitive to environmental factors than previously realized, thus suggesting new questions for investigation. We do not know how hamster activity patterns vary throughout the year, but our findings raise the question of whether the activity patterns described in laboratories ever occur in nature.

The Halle group have recently published a book on the Golden Hamster in German†; this seems to be an updated version of a book written by Kittel in 1986 but it has not yet appeared at booksellers.

If one compares the recent distribution map of the Golden Hamster with the maps appearing almost daily that show the conflict in northern Syria, it becomes instantly obvious why any field work on that species has become impossible in recent years.

Current distribution of the Golden Hamster as deduced by Gattermann and his colleagues in 2001

Michael Murphy
in later life
*Dr. Murphy earned a B.A in Psychology from Occidental College in 1967 and received his Ph.D. in Psychology and Brain Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1972. He did post-doctoral work as a Fellow of the Smithsonian Institution, and as a Staff Fellow of the National Institute of Mental Health (1972-1982). He conducted field research in Syria, Israel, and Romania. His field trip to Syria in 1971 with his wife resulted in the historic first successful capture of wild hamsters since the first specimens were captured in 1940. Dr. Murphy was the world's foremost expert on hamsters, important in medical research. At this time, he jokingly called himself a neuroosphreseolagnomesocricetologist, one who studies the brain structures for olfaction and natural behavior in hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Two of his many publications were important cover articles in the journal Science… In 1982 Dr. Murphy began his career working on medical protection for chemical weapons toxicity for the Air Force in San Antonio, first as contractor/manager with Systems Research Laboratories and later with the US government. He joined the US Air Force Research Laboratory in 1989 and was Chief of the Radio Frequency Radiation Branch from 1994-2004 and directly contributed to studies on the biological effects of millimeter waves and high peak power pulses. Dr. Murphy became the Scientific Director, Directed Energy Bioeffects Division, where he championed the importance of bioeffects research for supporting military applications of directed energy and non-lethal weapons. His work enabled weapons design, optimal safe Test and Evaluation, threat assessment, exposure standards, medical preparedness, protection, and policy decisions. It was through his efforts that the US Air Force is recognized internationally as a world-class center for radio frequency radiation health and safety research and dosimetry; he emphasized the critical importance of research quality and science-based decisions…

Der Goldhamster by Rolf Gattermann, Peter Fritzsche and Karsten Neumann. VerlagsKG Wolf. 2019

Fritzsche P, Neumann K, Nasdal K, Gattermann R. 2006. Differences in reproductive success between laboratory and wild-derived golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) as a consequence of inbreeding. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 60, 220-226.

Gattermann R, Fritzsche P, Neumann K, Al-Hussein I, Kayser A., Abiad M, Yakti R. 2001. Notes on the current distribution and the ecology of wild golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Journal of Zoology 254, 359-365.

Larimer SC, Fritzsche P, Song Z, Johnston J, Neumann K,  Gattermann R,  McPhee ME, Johnston RE. 2011. Foraging behavior of golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) in the wild. Journal of Ethology DOI: 10.1007/s10164-010-0255-8

Gattermann R, Fritzsche P, Weinandy R, Neumann K. 2002. Comparative studies of body mass, body measurements and organ weights of wild-derived and laboratory golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Laboratory Animals 36, 445-454

Gattermann R, Johnston RE, Yigit N, Fritzsche P, Larimer S, Ozkurt S, Neumann K, Song Z, 
Colak E, Johnston J, McPhee ME. 2008. Golden hamsters are nocturnal in captivity but diurnal in nature. Biology Letters 4, 253-255.

Murphy, M.R. 1985. History of the capture and domestication of the Syrian Golden Hamster (Mesocricetus auratus Waterhouse). In, The Hamster. Reproduction and Behavior. Edited by HI Siegel. New York: Plenum Press.

Monday 21 October 2019

History of the Golden Hamster: 2. Syria, Palestine and London

In 1985 Michael Ross Murphy (1945-2018) wrote an account of the capture and domestication of the Golden Hamster. All hamsters of this species in captivity from the 1930s until the 1970s were descendants of the original stock, and most still are. He did not, however, deal with the reason hamsters were brought to Britain or with what happened before they became commonplace in zoos and as household pets, a topic I dealt with in Part 1.

I will not go into great detail but the original hamsters were collected in 1930 at the request of Saul Adler during an expedition to northern Syria led by Israel Aharoni (1882-1946). Adler wanted to try hamsters from the Middle East for his research on kala azar, an often fatal disease caused, in that part of the world, by the protozoan parasite Leishmania infantum. He was using Chinese Hamsters (Cricetulus griseus) from the Far East but was unsuccessful in getting them to breed; new stock had to be imported and, moreover, were susceptible to Pasteurella infection.

Aharoni got his local guide, Georgius Khalil Tah’an, to talk to the local sheik. The latter hired labourers to dig holes in a local wheat field. Eventually, having destroyed the crop in much of the field, they found, eight-feet down, a complete nest comprising a mother and her eleven young.

What happened next could have been predicted by anybody who has kept rodents; the mother started to eat one of her young. Georgius saw this happening, removed the mother and killed it with cyanide. Now there were ten. Amazingly, Aharoni and his wife succeeded in hand-rearing the rest of the litter (reportedly, by Adler, on a meat diet). Then the ten escaped. All but one were recaptured. Now there were nine. The nine were handed over to the animal house at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem where both Aharoni and Adler worked. The animal house was run by Haim Ben-Menachem, a member of the para-military Haganah and who, on the foundation of Israel, became Director-General of the Ministry of Posts. He made a terrible mistake in putting the animals in a cage with a wooden floor. Hamsters gnaw. Five of the nine escaped. Now there were four: one male and three females. One female was apparently killed by a male in the first attempt at breeding them. Down to three.

Ben-Menachem, though, saved the day. He found a method of introducing the male to the female that did not result in one killing the other, and the pair produced young.

Adler in his first paper using Golden Hamsters gave the timing and circumstances of some of these events. The hamsters were handed over to the parasitology department July 1930 (although one paper gives that as the date of collection) and the first litter was born on 18 August. Sufficient young had been born by October because on 20 October Adler used two in his experiments on Mediterranean Kala Azar.

The population of captive Golden Hamsters soon grew. Within a year they had 150.

The arrival of Golden Hamsters in London was 1931 but this is where Murphy got it wrong. They were certainly brought to London by Adler and two pairs were given to Edward Hindle (1886-1973). Hindle was, Murphy wrote, ‘of the London Zoological Society’. But Hindle was not at London Zoo at this time. From 1928 until 1933 he was Beit Research Fellow in Tropical Medicine at the Wellcome Bureau of Scientific Research. Like Adler he was a parasitologist who also worked on kala azar. Indeed he had led the Royal Society’s Kala Azar Commission in China in the 1920s. Adler was a successor to Hindle in that role. The Golden Hamsters were a research gift from a parasitologist to a parasitologist. As Adler’s brother made it clear in a letter to The Times on 27 January 1973, Adler and Hindle were close friends. Adler said he ‘smuggled’ them into Britain in his coat pockets. However, there was then no restriction on bringing rodents into the U.K. so the story may have been embroidered a little.

But the two pairs were not the only hamsters brought to London. Adler, in a letter to Nature in 1948, stated he had brought some for the Medical Research Council (presumably the National Institute of Medical Research, NIMR) and some for the Wellcome Bureau, ‘where Dr E. Hindle succeeded in breeding them’. That probably explains the dual authorship of the paper on breeding and growth of the Golden Hamster published in 1934 (by which time Hindle had moved to the NIMR) in Proceedings of the Zoological Society (now Journal of Zoology). His co-author was Hilda Bruce* of NIMR who later discovered the pheromonal and eponymous Bruce Effect.

Adler does not state whether it was on the same trip that he took animals to Nattan Larrier in Paris.

But Saul Adler was not simply a foreign scientist visiting Britain in 1931. He was British. He was born in what is now Belarus but his parents and family had migrated to Leeds in 1900 when he was five. Scholarships took him to Leeds Central High School and the medical school of the University of Leeds. With medical qualifications obtained in 1917 he immediately joined the Royal Army Medical Corps from the university’s Officer Training Corps. He served in Mesopotamia until July 1920. Liverpool’s School of Tropical Medicine saw him next after which he worked as a research assistant in Sierra Leone. Then, in 1924, he was appointed to the Hebrew University—and he stayed there, as Professor of Parasitology—until his death in 1966.

His research in the Second World War took a similar turn to that of Goodwin (see Part 1) in assisting the effort to protect and treat Allied forces against tropical diseases including leishmaniasis. ‘For services to the Forces’ he was appointed O.B.E. in January 1946. In 1957 he was elected to the Royal Society, and his biographical memoir details the range and depth of his interests not only in many aspects of parasites and their hosts but in Charles Darwin, for example. He not only translated the Origin into Hebrew but hit the headlines by proposing in 1965 that Darwin’s debilitating illness was Chagas Disease, caused by a South American protozoan parasite.

I do like this story from Biographical Memoirs:

Although Adler had a remarkable memory he also had a reputation for absent-mindedness. The following story, although probably apocryphal, is an amusing illustration. One day, while wandering through Jerusalem, he got into a quarter with which he was unfamiliar. Almost anyone in Jerusalem would know him, so he stopped a passer-by and asked him if he could direct him to the street where Professor Adler lived. The individual addressed looked at him in some astonishment and said: ‘Daddy, don’t you recognize me?’

During the late 1930s Golden Hamsters were sent to other countries from Jerusalem and from London. Murphy found no earlier reports of animals in the U.S.A. before I.J. Kligler, Professor of Microbiology in Jerusalem, sent a batch in 1938. There was a pet hamster craze in the U.S.A. in the 1940s and early 50s, just as in Britain after the War.

Edward Hindle FRS was an interesting character with wide zoological interests and activities. In the interests of brevity I will discuss him in another article.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the hamsters Adler obtained were not the only ones collected by Aharoni in 1930. Murphy mentioned the fact that three old females were captured on 27 and 29 April 1930 and deposited in the Berlin Zoological Museum. The timing is right for them to have been collected at the same time as Adler’s animals. Was one the mother killed by Georgius Khalil Tah’an, i.e. the direct ancestor of all the domesticated hamsters? And were the other two collected dead or alive?

In Part 3 I look at Golden Hamsters collected before 1930 and after 1970.

*Hilda Margaret Bruce (5 April 1903 – 2 November 1974) 

Adler D. Professor E. Hindle. The Times, 27 January 1973.

Adler S. 1948. Origin of the Golden Hamster Cricetus auratus as a laboratory animal. Nature 162, 256-257.

Anon. 1973. Professor Edward Hindle. The Times. 24 January 1973.

Adler S, Theodor O. 1931. Investigations on Mediterranean Kala Azar. II.—Leishmania infantum. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 108, 453-463.

Bruce HM, Hindle HM. (1934). The Golden Hamster, Cricetus (Mesocricetus) auratus Waterhouse. Notes on its Breeding and Growth". Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. 1934: 361–366.

Garnham PCC. 1974. Edward Hindle. 1886-1973. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 20, 217-234.

Murphy MR. 1985. History of the capture and domestication of the Syrian Golden Hamster (Mesocricetus auratus Waterhouse). In, The Hamster. Reproduction and Behavior. Edited by HI Siegel. New York: Plenum Press. Murphy covers the early literature including papers and book by Aharoni written in Hebrew.

Shortt HE. 1967. Saul Adler 1895-1966. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 13, 1-34.

Friday 18 October 2019

History of the Golden Hamster: 1. Another fine mess and Wikipedia gets it so wrong

Some time after Len Goodwin (Leonard George Goodwin CMG FRS) died in 2008, I was greatly surprised when I read the sub-heading of his obituary in the Daily Telegraph: 'Expert in tropical diseases whose research accidentally introduced the pet hamster to Europe'. I was intrigued because I was pretty sure I knew the history of the Golden Hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) and the story of its first breeding from the progeny of a mother caught near Aleppo and its introduction in Britain as a laboratory animal that then made its way into zoos, to private individuals and to the pet trade. And it all happened before Len Goodwin’s work with hamsters.

The obituary went on:

One unexpected by-product of Goodwin's research was a new pet craze. The Syrian hamster is the most common type of hamster kept as a pet; and in an interview recorded for Oxford Brookes University Medical Sciences Video Archive, Goodwin claimed that all those now on sale in Europe are descended from that first colony bred in Euston Road.

Well, that was true but there is no indication that Goodwin himself was responsible for their appearance in the home. He began working with hamsters after they were first kept as pets. However, the story gets elaborated even more by the time it reaches Wikipedia:

Goodwin's attempt at refining the index by testing the drugs on European hamsters failed because they were already resistant to Leishmaniasis; instead he got a scientist in Jerusalem to send him some Syrian hamsters to test the drugs on.

That last sentence is, of course, is absolute nonsense. But whoever wrote the current Wikipedia entry on the domestication of the species also has it wrong.

The story was corrected by Goodwin’s obituarist, Max Blythe (1939-2017), for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (sadly, behind a paywall and anybody searching still sees the incorrect information on free-to-view websites):

Goodwin introduced the Syrian or golden hamster into drugs testing after finding that European hamsters, which German pharmacologists had used in assaying anti-leishmaniasis compounds, were slow in developing the disease. It was later sometimes claimed that pet golden hamsters originated from the laboratory colony that Goodwin established. As Goodwin pointed out, however, his breeding stock came from the zoologist Edward Hindle*, who in turn had received his from the original laboratory colony bred for Saul Adler, professor of parasitology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, from a wild litter found at Aleppo. The domestication of golden hamsters began with Adler.

Even though the correct story was and still is well known and well documented, a number of popular and scientific authors have got it wrong in the past. For example, some, including The Times (24 January 1973) in its obituary of Hindle, had Edward Hindle himself collecting the animals near Aleppo. Adler's brother had to write to The Times (27 January 1973) pointing out the error. One scientist even thought Golden Hamsters had been introduced by Sir Hans Krebs, the biochemist!

Adler brought two pairs to London for Hindle from his laboratory stock.

I knew of Golden Hamsters being kept as pets in Britain in the late 1930s but in order to check I searched the British Newspaper Archive as well as The Times for information on hamsters in zoos and in the home. It was in the late 1930s that Golden Hamsters first appeared in press reports as household pets. Hindle gave a pair to London Zoo in 1932, as The Times reported on 23 April. By 1936, another press report stated the hamsters ‘have propagated so rapidly that surpluses are to be sold’. Hindle took some hamsters to Glasgow when he was appointed Professor of Zoology there in 1935. Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland received some from him March 1938. There are press reports of Golden Hamsters as pets dating from 1937 in Edinburgh and Chichester and a shop in south-west London advertised them for sale in 1938 at six shillings and sixpence per pair (about £19 in today’s money). The Golden Hamster had also reached pet-keeping books by 1939. In the first edition (1939) of Animals as Friends and How to Keep Them by Margaret Shaw and James Fisher (both of whom worked at London Zoo at the time) there is information on the Golden Hamster including a photograph of the animal by Wolf Suschitzky (1912-2016).

All this was before Len Goodwin worked on hamsters. That came in the Second World War. Max Blythe again:

By 1942 his value as a pharmaceutical protozoologist secured his release from the tank corps just days after call-up. Soon afterwards he had a major part in research leading to the anti-leishmaniasis drug sodium stibogluconate, or Pentostam. With the German drug Stolustibosan no longer available and leishmaniasis a problem among troops invading Sicily, Wellcome chemists took up the challenge of synthesizing a similar organometallic pentavalent antimony compound. Goodwin undertook the screening of the numerous versions they created, eventually finding a British equivalent of Stolustibosan, which was trialled on American servicemen after initial testing on hamsters. Pentostam proved a timely addition to the wartime drugs arsenal and went on to widespread peacetime use.

But It was really after the war that Golden Hamsters became the pet to have. There was a craze in the U.K. and in the U.S.A. The latter appears to have been rather late on the scene since the first recorded importation, again as a laboratory animal, was in 1938, according to Michael R. Murphy who has written an account of the capture and domestication of the species.

There have been other errors and misinterpretations on their introduction to Britain—the subject of Part 2, to come later.

Len Goodwin (centre)
Wellcome Collection CC BY

*Edward Hindle (1886-1973, FRS 1942)

Anon. Leonard Goodwin. Daily Telegraph 14 January 2009.

Blythe M. Goodwin, Leonard George (1915–2008). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2012; online edn, Sept 2012

Murphy, M.R. 1985. History of the capture and domestication of the Syrian Golden Hamster (Mesocricetus auratus Waterhouse). In, The Hamster. Reproduction and Behavior. Edited by HI Siegel. New York: Plenum Press.

UPDATED: 28 October 2019

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Hong Kong this week; the Lychee Lantern Bug

Our Hong Kong correspondent sent us these photographs of a Lychee Lantern Bug (Pyrops candelaria), a planthopper. The bug sucks the sap from trees, especially lychee trees, which it reaches by inserting its long proboscis under the bark.