There are seven hamster species kept in the UK, although only five are available as pets to the general public.
The five species kept as pets are as follows: -
Syrian (sometimes referred to as the “Golden Hamster”)
Russian Dwarf Campbell
Russian Dwarf Winter White (sometimes called the “Siberian Hamster”)
The two other hamster species kept in captivity in the UK, are not available as pets and are only kept in zoos or private collections, and are as follows: -
European Hamster (sometimes called the “Common Hamster”)
The Syrian hamster is the most common type of hamster seen in pet shops and kept as pets.
Originally the species was named the “Golden Hamster”, as this was the original colour, but now this species are bred in many coat colours, as well as patterned coats, long and short haired and in rex and satin textured coats. Because the species are now available in so many colours, not just golden, the species was renamed the Syrian hamster, Syria being where the species originate from.
Although the coat appearance of the male and female SHORT hair appears identical, many inexperienced hamster owners are confused about the appearance of the LONG haired hamster. Although both males and females are available in LONG hair coats, ONLY the males can grow the very long tresses. Females, although can grow the odd long tuft DO NOT grow a full long coat like the males. Female long hair coats are only slightly longer than that of a short hair, but will have a “shaggy” type appearance, rather than the smooth sleek short hair coat.
Satin texture coated Syrians have a highly shiny coat of silky appearance, and Rex coated hamsters have a coat of wavy appearance and crinkled whiskers.
The gestation period for a Syrian hamster is 16 days. Females will come into season on average every four days.
The average life span for a Syrian hamster is two years.
Adult Syrian hamsters are solitary creatures; therefore once mature must NOT be housed with other hamsters, otherwise fighting will result.
Russian Dwarf Hamsters
Russian Dwarf Campbell and Russian Dwarf Winter White
The term Russian Dwarf actually refers to two species of hamster, one is the Russian Dwarf Campbell, and the other the Russian Dwarf Winter White.
Many novice hamster owners are unaware that there are two species of Russian dwarf as people are usually only familiar with the Campbell, as this is the dwarf species most commonly available in pet shops.
Both species originate from Russia, but from different regions and habitats.
To the novice both species may appear the same in appearance, but when both species are compared together the Campbell tends to be larger than its cousin the Winter White. There is also a slight difference in the head appearance of the two species, the Winter White having a noticeably roman shaped nose.
Both species are available in various colours.
The Winter White is distinct in the fact that in the wild (and in captivity) during winter months in their native Siberia, when there is snow on the ground, they can moult to a white coat (in the same way artic foxes etc. can change coat colour), so that they are camouflaged against the snow and therefore hidden from predators, hence the species name “Winter White”. Even in captivity they will often turn white during winter months.
Campbells, although being cousins of the Winter White DO NOT change colour.
Of the two Russian Dwarf species, the Campbell tends to be the most tolerant and friendly with their own kind, but can be inclined to be the “nippiest” of all the hamster species, where as the Winter White is the opposite, sometimes quarrelsome with other Winter Whites, but much more friendly with humans.
Although the species are closely related enough that they can cross species breed, it is NOT advisable to cross breed as any health problems that may exist in one species (i.e. Diabetes in Campbells) could be passed on to the other species. It is desirable to keep these two species separate and pure bred.
The gestation period for a Russian Dwarf is 18 days.
The average life span is two years, although sadly many Campbells suffer from Diabetes, a condition which considerably shortens the life span of an affected animal.
The Roborovski Hamster
The Roborovski hamster is one of the smallest species of hamster, an adult being only aprox 6 or 7 cm in length. This species is occasionally available in pet shops, but any prospective new owners should be aware that this is a species that is very difficult to handle as they are extremely fast to catch, and will try to jump out of your hands once caught, making them a species not really suited to young children.
They are a sociable species, and can be kept in pairs or small groups.
Because of their small size and ability to squeeze through small gaps, they should NOT be housed in a standard wide barred Syrian cage, as they would easily squeeze through the bars.
They should ideally be housed in a glass or plastic tank, with a secure mesh lid (as they can jump and climb as well!), or alternatively a cage with very narrow bars (i.e. a mouse cage).
The Chinese Hamster
The Chinese hamster is very different in its appearance to other pet hamsters. They have a long, narrow body, giving them a mouse type appearance. They also have a longer tail than most hamster species. Chinese can be kept in pairs, or small groups, but potential new owners should be aware that this species can often be quarrelsome.
Although a very shy species with humans, they are very easy to handle and rarely, if ever bite.
The European Hamster
The European hamster is a species usually only seen in zoos in the UK.
Although once very common in the wild in some European countries, its numbers are now in decline as it was considered a pest, and therefore often killed.
A small number of zoos in the UK keep this species, and are trying to breed them for reintroducing into the wild.
The European hamster is a large species, an adult being the size of a Guinea pig.
The Mouselike Hamster
The Mouselike hamsters are only seen in zoos or private collections.
As their name suggests they have the appearance of a mouse, having a long tail, and being the size of a mouse.
Mouselike hamsters are unusual in the fact that they do not have cheek pouches like other hamster species.