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My girlfriend has a hamster, which I consider to be a stupid animal. He constantly runs on his wheel. Hours and hours and hours. I watch and think, "Does he think he is actually going somewhere? Is it a sexual thing? Does he know it's good for him?" I hope you can change my opinion of him and in return save his life.

-- GC, San Diego

Do we have a severe case of hamster envy here? Girlfriend paying too much attention to it and ignoring you? Let's see if we can adjust your attitude with some facts.

I'll admit I don't know what the fur lump is thinking in his marathon to nowhere. But I do know that hamsters were born to run. It's in the genes. They love it. They need it, they gotta have it. In fact, they become ill and paralyzed if they don't get it. In the wild. relatively defenseless rodents like the hamster are destined to be owl fodder and d'oeuvres for foxes; their ecological niche keeps them pretty much living on the edge. The urge to run is probably a handy quality.

To confirm your observations, it's true that some hamsters will run from four to eight miles day. Pretty impressive, even if he hasn't moved a inch after all that work.

A few other notes about hamsters that may raise the breed a bit in your estimation: they have the shortest gestation period of any animal (16 days)., reach maturity in as little as one month, and can reproduce at a maniacal rate, with as may as a dozen per litter. In theory, a single pair, operating at peak efficiently could be the progenitors of 100,000 offspring in one year (that's counting their offspring, the offspring's offspring, the offspring's offspring's offspring, et cet.). Beginning to see that little guy in a new light? Live hard, die young. That's his motto.

Don't worry about being forced out of the house by an ever-growing avalanche of galloping furry things. As nature's check-and-balance system, hamsters have been endowed with scrappy and irritable personalities. They can be real punks and love to pick fight with other hamsters. Two grappling hamsters will often fight to the death if you don't keep an eye on them.

If you're still considering hamstercide, all I can say is, be patient. Most hamsters burn out in about three years. I don't recommend "either-me-or-the-hamster" ultimatums to your girlfriend. You may not like her choice Hang in there. Or better yet, maybe you need to do eight miles a day I your own big hamster wheel.

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