Tracking the Hamster Marathon

[Michelle Leonhart] has two Roborovski hamsters (which, despite the name, are organic animals and not mechanical). She discovered that they seem to run on the hamster wheel all the time. A little Wikipedia research turned up an interesting factoid: This particular breed of hamster is among the most active and runs the equivalent of four human marathons a night. Of course, we always believe everything we read on Wikipedia, but not [Michelle]. She set out to determine if this was an accurate statement.

She had already added a ball bearing to the critters’ wheel to silence it by cannibalizing an old VCR. What she needed was the equivalent of a hamster pedometer. A Raspberry Pi and a Hall effect sensor did the trick. At least for the raw measurement. But it still left the question: how much distance is a hamster marathon?

01_hamster_stride_measurement[Michelle] went all scientific method on the question. She determined that an average human female’s stride is 2.2 feet which works out to 2400 strides per mile. A marathon is 26.2 miles (based on the distance¬†Pheidippides supposedly ran to inform Athens of victory after the battle of Marathon). This still left the question of the length of a hamster’s stride. Surprisingly, there was no definitive answer, and [Michelle] proposed letting them run through ink and then tracking their footsteps. Luckily, [Zed Shaw] heard about her plan on Twitter and suggested pointing a webcam up through the plastic bottom of the cage along with a scale. That did the trick and [Michelle] measured her hamster’s stride at about 0.166 feet (see right).

Now it was a simple matter of math to determine¬†that a hamster marathon is just under 10,500 steps. Logging the data to SQLite via ThingSpeak for a month led [Michelle] to the conclusion: her hamsters didn’t run 4 marathon’s worth of steps in a night. In fact, they never really got much over 2 marathons.

Does [Michelle] have lazy hamsters, or did she just add to our body of scientific knowledge about rodents? We don’t know. But we couldn’t help but admire her methods and her open source data logging code would probably be useful for some non-hamster activities.

If you are super competitive, you could use [Michelle’s] data to handicap yourself and challenge your pets to a race. But it would probably be cooler to build them their own Starship Trooper-style walkers. Either way, you can check out [Michelle’s] little marathon runners in the video below.

28 thoughts on “Tracking the Hamster Marathon

  1. So if the Wikipedia article stated 4 Human Marathons why make up a Hamster Marathon metric? And… why is measuring strides easier than measuring distance traveled with a hamster wheel of a known diameter? I think I would have just counted revolutions of the hamster wheel and multiplied it times the circumference. What am I missing? Or is a hamster marathon just cuter?

    1. I think you had it right on the first pass. They wanted to scale the marathon to the size of the animal. The wikipedia article does fairly directly say “human marathons,” though, so I’m not sure why they went through the exercise of scaling.

      1. Why is it 10,500 steps for a hamster marathon when it said it should be 2,400 steps per mile (for a human female) which is 62,880 steps in a marathon???? is the hamster covering 6 time the length of a human female? it should be 62,880 steps for the hamster also and the distance should be 1.9769090909 miles.

  2. Four marathons in a night?? Sounds more like urban legend, than scientific research. Now lets correct Wikipedia.
    On the second night I would roast the thing, if the wheel was not silenced. The wheel dummy. Boy, are you sick or what?

  3. Just a question about stride length, it seems most quadrupeds have a different stride, and stride length, when walking as opposed to running, and hamsters run on their wheels, so did she measure the stride of her hamsters running instead of walking? If walking the difference in stride could screw up all her measurements.

  4. The hacker in me is curious as to the power output of a couple of hamsters going crazy on their wheel all night… Wonder how many hamsters on how many wheels it’d take to charge your average smartphone overnight…

        1. No, probably not directly anyway, you could use it to charge a battery that would then charge the phone, or something, or just add more hamsters. 200mA @ 1.2VAC should be ~50mA at 4.8VAC, so say ~45mA at 5VAC, not accounting for losses and such converting the AC to DC, 20 hamsters would give you an amp, so 10 would probably be sufficient to charge your average smartphone overnight… You’d just need Apple approved hamsters :-P

  5. The 10,487 number is the feet in a hamster marathon, not the number of steps they need to complete one. The premise is that the number of steps that a human needs to complete a “human marathon” is the same as the number of steps a hamster needs to complete a “hamster marathon.”

  6. I believe that she measured the stride wrong. Wikipedia has a great video of a hamster’s gate under the “Gate” term. The measurement should have been the distance between the front paws. It looks like she measured it between the front and back paws on the same side. This change in measurement could half the stride distance and double the distance traveled.

    1. I’ll quote her reply to a similar question on her site.
      “The stride measurement is calculated as the distance between the initial location of a single foot and the final location of that same foot after a single step. I think your confusion is because in the image, the front portion of the hamster’s right paw is coincidentally near what was the final location of the back of the hamster’s rear paw, which is the paw being measured in the image.”

      So, if your definition of “Gate” is correct then her measurement was twice as large as it should have been (but for a different reason than you originally thought).

  7. A hamster wheel with magnets and a counter is a standard product you can buy. Nick the Wonder Hamster had a video made back in 2014 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02NmcMLUM6w (I apologize for the video quality, it was my first video) It is worth watching to the end .

    Here are the notes from the video:

    This is my first YouTube video. It was taken 4/24/2004 with my friend Dave’s phone that was limited to 30 second video clips, so there is a short break at 0:30 and 1:00

    Nick the Wonder Hamster was about 1 year old at the time. Over his life time, he wrapped the counter about 26 times. Each 100000 feet is 18.94 miles , so he ran about 492 miles (or 2,600,000 feet), which is about 491 miles longer than I have ever run.

    He was dearly loved by my wife and I.

    For those of you who are curious, the wheel has a circumference of 2 feet, and has 2 magnets on opposite sides of the outside of the wheel. So 99999 on the counter is 50000 full rotations. The cheap plastic bearing (as seen in the video) in the middle of the wheel wore out after about 10 x 99999 feet, so Dave and I made a custom replacement with a high performance ball bearing taken from a disk drive. It let the wheel turn much more quietly, and with very little wobble.

    How fast is Nick going? at 0:16 the counter is 99750, at 0:41 it is 99898, so 148 feet in 25 seconds. That works out to 21312 feet per hour, or a bit over 4 MPH.

  8. The modern marathon distance is actually based on the distance from Winsdor castle to the Olympic stadium. The fabled battle of marathon’s distance is ~25 mi depending on which route you think Pheidippides took.

  9. That’s why I can’t take anyone serious who uses thet ancient bullshit units. Miles, feet…
    Show me how you mix up steps and meters like they did with feet.

    I have never heard of walkers in Starship Troopers. Do they appear in the original comics? In the movies they don’t.

    Well this article shows the problem with this site. Quantity over quality….

    1. You realize in the UK people still use the imperial system. Ya, in school and their road signs etc are metric, but it is not as straight forward as you think. People still say feet and inches when referring to height and distance, they still use miles and kilometers interchangeably depending on the context. Hell, they will often say how many “stones” they weigh (15lb per stone).

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