Monday, November 20, 2006
An exciting day.
Saturday morning one of the Miguel hamsters (now dubbed “Girl Miguel,” for obvious reasons) had a litter of nine little hamster babies. Rocio and her cousin first discovered them and left me a note which I found when I got home: “Josh! Bday! Go and see the baby hamsters.”
Christin called it pregnant on Wednesday after I’d shown her the Miguel and noticed how fat it had become so quickly. We were very careful with her and then on Friday night I wondered aloud about how long hamsters gestate. I found out…
Anyway, I first got on scene around 3pm on Saturday. All of the creatures were asleep. Mom had herself wrapped around the babies and the three males were conked out in their plastic house. All seemed well except for one baby that Mom had separated out from the rest. It looked a pale pinkish white instead of the rich dark pink of the other eight squirmers and seemed mostly dead. Sad, but I guess that’s how it goes. I washed the crap (literally) out of the plastic house, gave everybody some extra food and water, and let them be.
Boy Miguel and Girl Miguel.
As the afternoon went on, the males became their usual rambunctious selves, running around, climbing on things, and just generally getting in the way. After a few rounds trampling over the babies, they got to be too much for me to deal with. So I created a partition in the cage using some of Rocio’s blank DVD cases and masking tape. It kind of sucks for the boys, but they’re now penned up in the small second floor ledge of the cage. I put the house up with them and filled it with some food and made a pledge to remember to switch the water bottle between them and Girl Miguel periodically so everyone could drink.
Then I went out for a jog (in Central Park at about 7pm — very lovely). And when I got home, the shit hit the fan.
Inside the cage is a dish towel that Rocio put in the cage soon after we got the hamsters. Six weeks or so ago. Great. They love to pull it apart with their teeth and sleep on it, etc. No problems. But after I returned home I noticed one of the babies tangled up in some of the loose threads. Rocio’s cousin actually first noticed when we were talking about the babies before I left to run. At that time, I said I thought Girl Miguel would work it out and not to worry. But things seemed bad when I got back. The babies was still stuck, wrapped fairly tightly with thread. And it had stopped moving. And the other babies actually, it turns out, could wriggle along at quite a clip when they wanted to — despite being eyeless, hairless, little pink jellybeans. And others were getting into dangerous-looking situations.
Wondering what on Earth is going on.
So I made an executive decision that the babies needed to be moved. I know that you shouldn’t mess with someone else’s babies, but I felt like the risk of Girl Miguel abandoning them or eating them or whatever later was acceptable considering that a bunch may die in the ragged dish towel. So I removed the top of the cage and moved the boys away. I kept the mother on the table with me and the cage, figuring she should be around to watch or something. Maybe just to know that these were still hers.
I got my nail clippers and clipped the one baby out that had been tangled in the rag. Which took some creative effort and very steady hands. It was really caught tightly and some of the strands had caused little rope burns on his neck and side. But he was alive. So I got in there and clipped him out along with a bit of fabric and then put him in my palm and finished cutting everything off of him. It got a bit difficult because some of the strands had lacerated him and were stuck a bit in his body, requiring some very close clipping and a few gentle tugs. At one point he accidentally rolled over in my hand and fell down a few feet to the floor — which I felt horrible about: Poor guy. Rough start at life… But he appeared to have not been additionally injured. I then found another dish towel and manually moved the rest of the babies over, including the pale, half-dead one, which I did a little check-up on, as well, to see if anything obvious could be fixed.
Holding them was odd. I expected them to feel very, very delicate. And they were, I guess, but they were also much firmer and stronger-feeling than I had anticipated. When one of the big hamsters stepped on one of them earlier, I winced. But now I think it probably doesn’t hurt them that much. Also, their skin was still very translucent. I could see their dark pea-sized lungs and heart and a white little squiggle of lower intestines inside of them. And, of course, the two dark dots of forming eyes under the skin in their heads. It was fascinating to look at them. In a way, they’re kind of an example of what the simplest pieces are that one needs to have a working, living mammal. If you strip off all of the fancy deluxe features of a human, we’re that same package of heart, lungs, and bowels.
While this was going on, Girl Miguel was beginning her descent into crazy. Understandably, I guess. She flat-out ran off the side of the table a few times and hid behind the vacuum cleaner in the corner, so I put her in with the boys for a bit to save her from killing herself while I finished setting the cage back up.
I spread a bunch of new wood shavings around the base of the cage and spread out the new dish towel, covering about two-thirds of the space. And I replaced the food dish and the water and placed the babies on the new towel. And put the cage back together with Mom inside.
Mom was going insane. She got in there and began just franticly running about. She’d run a couple of circles around the cage, climb a wall for a split second, run a second in the treadmill, and go back to running in circles. It’s one thing having energy, but this was a kind of mortal confusion. She had no idea what had happened and she was very, very scared. And so I continued to try to figure out what to do. The babies were squirming around, reaching up with their open mouths whenever Girl Miguel came close, looking for a nipple.
I guess I really changed the scent when I switched out the towels and moved the babies. Maybe still having sweat on me from jogging made it worse. The original place with he babies still had blood and placental debris (I guess) from the childbirth all over it, and maybe Girl Miguel needed this. I mentioned to Christin that we’d had a conflict of the different wirings of our species’ brains: My brain saw them getting caught and went “this looks really bad — I’ve got to fix it.” Her brain saw the moved babies and may have fired off some signals to the effect: “I had some babies, but I don’t know where they are. These are babies, but they’re different. Something is very wrong.”
Things got extra bizarre when she picked up the pale, dying one by the head and began running around with it. She dug in the corner a few times, as if looking for a place to bury it or to get it away from the healthy babies. I pulled her out of the cage and set her on the towel (baby still in mouth) figuring that it might help to give her a way to leave it outside of the cage. No dice. So I put them back in and left the cage door open so she could leave him elsewhere on the table if necessary. No. She ran around with him. And then picked up the damaged baby I had cut out of the towel and ran around holding him by the head. She wasn’t being particularly careful with either baby. So, okay. I didn’t know what to do. I finally just closed the cage door and left the room, figuring she’d either start taking care of them again or eat them and, at that point, I really had no more say in the matter.
An hour or two later I checked in. She had settled down and had made a nest and collected the babies into it. Except for the pale one — she finally disposed of him by placing him in the food dish. He still twitched feebly. The one I rescued from the cloth seemed to be okay and a part of the family. So success on that front.
And that’s basically how the night ended.
Today the pale baby had been moved into the nest, as well, so I guess she decided to give him (or her) a try.
Right now she’s sitting over them all. I haven’t had any direct access to them since Saturday, but I think they’re all accounted for and basically doing okay. She worried me a bit earlier when she covered them with the towel and was running around (just getting a bit of exercise, I imagine). She hid them very well and the only was I finally knew where they were was by noticing a faint motion underneath a bit of the towel where the little’uns were squirming.
I'm Josh Knowles, a technology developer/consultant on a variety of mobile, social media, and gaming projects. I founded and lead Frescher-Southern, Ltd. I grew up in Austin, Texas and currently live in New York City.
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