For some people, hamsters are the perfect pet!
They are nice to look at and entertaining to watch, soft and cuddly to hold, fairly independent, and don’t take up a lot of space, which makes them great starter pets for children.
However, they do need regular cleaning out – which can be a messy job – and only live for a few years.
In this article we will look at what hamsters are, describe different breeds and discover some interesting hamster facts.
Table Of Contents
- What is a hamster?
- Common breeds of pet hamster
- Hamster facts
What is a hamster?
Small animals, hamsters have small furry ears, stocky legs with wide feet, thick and silky fur, and short tails.
Even Chinese dwarf hamsters, who have the longest tails among hamsters, still have quite small ones.
Why do they have such short tails compared to other rodents?
The reason for this is probably because hamsters evolved to be burrowing rodents and having a shorter tail helps them burrow more quickly.
It is also less likely to be grabbed while they are trying to evade a predator.
They are not climbers, like some other small animals, such as rats or mice, where a long tail helps them balance as they go in search of food, a nest and to avoid predators.
Lifestyle and behavior
Hamsters are nocturnal, which means they sleep during the day and are active at night.
A hamster’s natural habitat in the wild consists of warm, dry areas such as steppes and the edges of deserts.
They are omnivores choosing to mainly eat seeds, plants and insects.
Hamsters have some peculiar mannerisms, such as stuffing their cheeks, grinding their teeth, stretching their legs and suddenly freezing in place.
If you are curious to know why they do these and other things, then here is a lovely little article offering some explanations…
Common breeds of pet hamster
Hamsters are really popular pets, but even though there are over 20 species, only 5 make good pets.
All other hamsters continue to live in the wild.
While limited to a choice of 5, pet owners will not be disappointed with the options they have and will have no problems finding a great pet.
Here are the 5 breeds of this popular pet…
|Temperament||Easy to handle, curious, territorial|
Also known as golden hamsters and teddy bear hamsters, these beauties hail from northern Syria and southern Turkey.
Most have a golden brown coat with a lighter colored belly.
Perhaps the most important thing to note about Syrian hamsters is that they must live on their own.
This breed are solitary animals and will fight ferociously with each other.
Even having another Syrian hamster in a different part of the house could be problematic as if they smell each other they might become upset.
Keeping other hamsters – i.e. different breeds – is fine, though.
Around humans, however, they are delightful animals and make very good pets.
They are happy to be handled, but are also curious so would prefer to scurry up your arm and sit on your shoulders rather than sit quietly in the cup of your hand.
Do they like to play?
Absolutely, they do!
Being a lot larger than the dwarf hamsters – about twice the size – they have quite a bit of energy to burn and require exercising.
These hamsters love to run around the garden or house in a hamster ball and if you build them an expansive hamster run they will love you forever!
|Length||3-5 inches (including tail)|
|Temperament||Intelligent, a little shy, need taming|
Most hamsters have short, stubby tails to match their stubby legs, but the tail of a Chinese hamsters is actually relatively long.
They are more similar in appearance to mice than the other domestic hamster breeds with that longer tail and long, slender body.
There are two coloration types:
1.Agouti coat with black line along the spine and ivory belly
2. White coat with spots of colour
Are they a dwarf hamster?
Some things you read will say they are, but they are not true dwarfs and it would be better to simply describe them as a mid-sized hamster.
They can be shy to begin with and take a little time to warm to humans. But, if you can be patient and take the time to handle them a lot from a young age they will turn out to be friendly pets.
They are intelligent and do require a lot of stimulation and activities to keep them from getting bored.
While they can be part of a same-sex pair or group, like Syrian hamsters they are largely solitary creatures and can be aggressive towards one another, so it would be best to keep them alone.
Hamster care is obviously very important for all breeds, but pet owners should be especially careful with the three dwarf hamster breeds.
Being very small animals, dwarf hamsters can be great escape artists so it is best not to keep them in a traditional hamster cage with wires.
Instead, we recommend housing them in an tank (plastic or glass) with a mesh lid.
Also, make sure that they have hamster wheels that are solid with no gaps. A hamster wheel with gaps could be tragically disastrous for these small rodents.
It doesn’t bare thinking about!
Winter white dwarf hamster (aka Russian hamsters)
|Temperament||Mellow, affectionate, sociable|
Very small and quick, they are not ideal first pets for young children.
However, they are social animals and prefer to be in same-sex groups so children could enjoy watching them play together in their tank.
The three most common colours are:
- black and gray
They usually have a dark stripe from head to tail.
So not white? But their name is winter white!!
Their name comes from their fascinating ability to change fur color when winter approaches.
They are both docile and very active. This means they make a nice pet as are happy to be handled, but can be rather noisy at night as they spend hours and hours running on their wheels.
Best not to keep them in your bedroom if you want a good night’s sleep.
Campbell’s dwarf hamster
Quite similar to the above breed, the main differences being that Campbell’s has a shorter, darker stripe on it’s back, less hair on the feet, and smaller ears.
These delicate animals are more nervous and reserved than other hamsters, so would appreciate some additions to their tank where they can hide and feel safe.
Due to their timid disposition, they would prefer a calm and patient owner to a household with young children – they are known to bite when scared.
|Temperament||Energetic, sweet-natured, agile|
Another dwarf hamster, this tiny creature is a very small animal indeed and is, in fact, smaller than all the other species of hamsters.
Though they have great temperaments and can be handled, they are very quick and nimble so don’t make great cuddlers.
Many owners prefer to take joy in just observing them in their tanks.
They enjoy companionship and will be even more active with a friend around, so if you give them a large enough living space with plenty of toys they will keep you entertained for hours 🙂
Just make sure you have a same-sex group unless you want loads of cute hamster babies to look after.
In the wild, they live in the desert and spend hours and hours running along sand dunes.
This natural energy has not been lost in domesticated breeds.
During the research for this article we found a number of fun hamster facts that we enjoyed and wanted to share with you.
So, without further ado, here are some fascinating hamster facts.
Hamster facts: scientific
- Hamsters see in black and white with some shades of green too.
- While their moves produce saliva, no saliva is diverted to the spacious cheek pouches – where hamsters store food – in order to keep any food stored there dry.
- Hamsters eat insects in the wild along with plants – they are omnivores.
- The European hamster is now a critically endangered species with numbers down 94% in France and more than 75% in Eastern Europe.
Hamster facts: records
- The Roborovski hamster is the smallest hamster in the world and has a length of just 2 inches!
- The largest breed of domesticated hamsters is the Syrian Hamster – aka teddy bear hamster or golden hamsters. Syrian hamsters can grow up to 7 inches in length.
- But the largest hamster of all, the European hamster, can be double that size with some of these wild hamsters reaching 15 inches (40cm) in length.
- The oldest hamster residing in the Guinness World Records lived to 4.5 years old.
- If they are not eaten by predators, some wild hamsters can live much longer than this. It is thought European hamsters can live up to 8 years old.
Hamster facts: surprising
- According to the National Geographic there are 26 different hamster species (other sources will tell you anywhere between 18 and 24). The surprising thing is that the majority of these are considered wild hamsters.
- Only 5 species of hamsters are common house pets.
- Hamsters have poor eyesight and can only see a few inches in front of them. This very poor eyesight means they reply heavily on hearing and smell to navigate around.
- Domestic hamsters only live for an average of 2 or 3 years.
Hamster facts: behavior
- In the wild, mother hamsters sometimes carry their young in their cheek pouches.
- A hamster can stuff its cheek pouches with up to 20% of its body weight with anything from food to cage bedding.
- Both male and female hamsters have scent glands, but a a male has more pronounced ones and when he gets aroused will sometimes lick his scent glands until they are completely wet.
Hamster facts: general
- Like guinea pigs, male hamsters are called boars, female hamsters are called sows and baby hamsters are called pups.
- The rarest color for a hamster is beige and the most common is golden.
- Hamster dig burrows and have an intricate array of tunnels and chambers with separate areas for living and sleeping.
- Gestation period ranges from 16-30 days depending on species: Syrian hamsters: 16 days; Chinese hamsters: 18-23 days; Winter White hamsters: 18-21 days; Campbell’s hamster: 18-20 days; Roborovski hamsters: 22 – 30 days
Hamster facts: fascinating
- The German word for panic buying and hoarding is hamsterkauf. This word was herd often in Germany during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The first hamsters were discovered in Syria. You can also find wild hamsters across Europe, the Middle East and Asia (e.g. northern China).
- Temperature can control the sex of young during pregnancy with warming temperatures producing male hamsters and colder ones female hamsters