Feb 082014

Every wonder when and where different breeds of hamsters came from? Although you may not think so, hamsters actually have a long history. Read below to learn more about hamster history.

Hamster history






Syrian Hamster Discovery

It all began in Aleppo, Syria.  Sometime in the late 1700s the Syrian hamster was documented in a book titled “Natural History of Aleppo” by Alexander Russell and revised by his half-brother Patrick after Alexander’s death.

Credit for the naming of the species, however, goes to George Waterhouse in 1839. At a meeting of the London Zoological Society, he presented the “new” species. As history would have it, his presentation was based on an elderly female hamster from Aleppo, Syria.
Syrian hamster discoverer George Waterhouse

Waterhouse named the species Cricetus auratus. He used the word “auratus” because in Latin it means “gold” or “golden”. That was probably the coloring of the hamster he found in the wild.  So you could say the first hamster known was the Golden Hamster.

The next major event in hamster history was around 1930 when zoologist and Professor at the University of Jerusalem, Israel Aharoni, found a mother and litter of hamsters in the Syrian Desert. Many of these died or escaped. But the remaining hamsters were given to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where they were successfully bred as Golden Hamsters.

They were a bit bigger than the ones Waterhouse found, so they were named Mesocricetus auratus, although they were probably the same species.

The common name, hamster, comes from the German word hamstern, which means to hoard or to hide. As you know, hamsters love to stuff and hide food inside their cheeks.

Importation to the US and Europe

Because Golden Hamsters proved so easy to breed and take care of, they were sent to labs in the United Kingdom in 1931 and seven years later, in 1938, to the United States.

There, the animals became popular as pets, and by the 1950s this rodent had become a craze. Britain, Germany and the Netherlands were the first countries to sell these rodents as pets, but as hamster history shows, they also became a hit with kids in the United States.

All the variants today most likely came from the one litter that was discovered and bred in Syria. The only exception would be those that travelers brought to the US.

Roborovski Hamster History

The dwarf hamster known as the Roborovski hamster comes from the semi-arid areas in Mongolia and Northern China.
Roborovski hamster history

This type hamster was named after its discoverer, Lt. Vsevolod Roborovski who, in 1894, reported seeing them during an expedition to China. Years later, in 1903, they were scientifically studied by zoologist Konstantin A. Satunin.

Time passed again, and it wasn’t until the late 1960s that Roborovskis were imported to the UK. Unfortunately, they did not breed well in captivity. Other European countries, the Netherlands in particular, were more successful breeding Roborovskis. They finally began to be available as pets in the 1990s, reaching the shores of the U.S. in 1998.
Since then, the dwarf Roborovskis have become a very popular breed.

Campbell’s Dwarf Hamster History

The Campbells Dwarf Russian Hamster, like the Roborovski, was named after the person who first discovered it, Thomas Campbell. He discovered the breed in 1905 and it was named Phodopus Campbellis in his honor.

The Campbells was imported into the UK by the London Zoological Society in 1963, where it was successfully bred. However, it didn’t become widely available as a pet until the early 1980s.

Djungarian / Winter White Dwarf Hamster History

The Djungarian hamster, also known as the Siberian or Winter White hamster, was originally found in Siberia and Eastern Kazakhstan.  Interestingly enough, it has a long history, having first been found in 1773.  It was at first thought to be part of the mouse family.

However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that they were bred and studied by scientist Klaus Hofmann in a German laboratory. In the 1970s they began showing up in the UK pet market, then moved on to the U.S. market in the 1980s.

Chinese Hamster History

As you would suspect, the Chinese hamster originally came from Northeastern China. They were first domesticated and used as a lab animal around 1919. This type hamster entered the U.S. around 1948 for breeding in research labs. By the mid-50s, they were being successfully bred at Harvard University.

Beginning in the 1970s, the Chinese hamster became more popular as a pet.

Scientific Research

The hamster is widely used in scientific labs because they breed quickly, have a relatively short life cycle, are not susceptible to diseases, and handling them is easy. Because their cardiovascular system is similar to humans, scientists often use them for cardiovascular research.

As you can see, hamsters have a long history, first as scientific curiosities, then as lab animals, and finally, as the loveable pet we know today.


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Mar 212011

A critical question to ask when you’re getting a new hamster is “What size cage should I buy for my hamster?”

Size is important because hamsters are active pets – especially at night. They like to run, climb, play with their toys, and burrow. All this activity means they have to have space in their cages.

The two key questions to ask about space are “What’s inside the cage?” and “What type hamster do you have?

What’s inside the cage?

Everything you put inside your hamster cage takes up space. So what goes inside the typical cage? hamster cage

Exercise wheel: Because a typical hamster can run about 6 miles (9 km) in one night you need to have an exercise wheel for your cage. This can be a freestanding exercise wheel or one of the kind that attaches to the metal bars on the cage. The freestanding wheel takes up space on the floor of the cage. But even the kind that attaches to the wire walls takes up space inside the cage.
hamster tubes

Tubes: Another way for your hamster to get exercise is to run through hamster tubes. People even connect a lot of tubes so the hamster has a big maze to climb through. Some tubes go outside the cage so they don’t take up any space inside the cage, but some climbing tubes may go inside the cage and take up space.

Water: Hamsters need water. You can attach a water bottle to the outside of the hamster cage, but its tip still takes up room in the cage. If you don’t use a water bottle you have to have space for a water bowl on the bottom of the cage.

Food bowl: What you feed your hamster goes inside a hamster food bowl. These can be large or small depending on how much food your hamster eats.

Toys: There are all kinds of chew toys and play toys for hamsters. You can also get a hamster house or some people even use the cardboard toilet paper holder. Depending on their sizes, these toys use space in the hamster habitat.

So before you buy your hamster cage, think about all of these items and how much room they will take up in the bottom and along the side of the cage you want. Remember you still need plenty of space for bedding so your hamster has spots to burrow, play, and use as a bathroom.

What type hamster do you have?

The other thing you have to consider when you’re thinking about the size of your cage is the type of hamster you have. The typical Syrian hamster, also called a teddy bear or Golden hamster, is about 5 to 7 inches (13 to 17 cm) long.

Having this type hamster may mean some of the items in your cage will have to be larger. For example, your hammy should not have to bend its back when it’s in its exercise wheel. So you may need a larger exercise wheel in your cage if you have a Syrian hamster. You also have to make sure the climbing tubes you get are large enough for this type hamster to fit through. That means more space for your hamster tubes. Also, because of the Syrians size you have to make sure there’s lots of bedding in the cage so it can burrow.

The typical dwarf hamster such as a Roborovski is smaller, being about 2 to 4 inches (5 to 20 cm) long. But many people keep two dwarf hamsters together in one cage because they get along with each other. That means providing enough space in your cage for two hamsters to run around in.

If you want to breed hamsters you’re also going to need a much bigger hamster cage.

The right size hamster cagehamster cage

Most people recommend getting a wire hamster cage that is at least 24 inches wide by 12 inches deep by about 10 inches tall (61 X 31 X 25 cm).

If you’re planning on using an aquarium, you will need at least a 10 gallon fish tank, but 20 gallons would be even better.
hamster cage
Smaller cages, that are usually 8 inches long by 12 ½ inches wide by 7-1/2-inches high (20 X 32 x 19 cm) may be adequate for a smaller dwarf hamster. It is too small for the Syrian hamster.

Available larger cages are about 16 inches long by 24 inches wide by 12 inches high (40 X 61 x 31 cm). This size will give your hamster plenty of room to exercise and burrow around inside its cage.



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Dec 292009

When it comes to hamsters sold as pets, there is one “large” type hamster and four “small” or dwarf-type hamsters. These five types of hamsters include:

  • Syrian/Golden
  • Dwarf Winter White Russian
  • Dwarf Campbell’s Russian
  • Roborovski
  • Chinese

Hamsters are part of the rodent family, along with mice and rats. But hamsters are the most popular for keeping as pets.

Let’s consider the key characteristics of each type.


Syrian / Golden Hamster
This type hamster is usually called a Golden Hamster, probably because the original ones were a golden brown coloring. Today, however, Syrians are available in many different colors.

There is a long-haired Syrian variety called the Teddy Bear because people think it looks like a toy teddy bear. There is also a dark, long-haired version called the Black Bear hamster.

All varieties have hairless feet with four toes up front and five in the back.

Adult Syrians usually measure from 5 to 7 inches (13 to 18 cm). They can live from 2 to 3 years.

Main rule for keeping Syrian Hamsters: 1 per cage! After about 6 weeks of age, they prefer to live alone. If you put another hamster in with them, they will very likely get into a fight and you will have some very injured hamsters. They can live in cages with metal bars, plastic cages, or aquariums. See the article Types of Hamster Cages: Aquarium, Plastic, Metal Bars. [link]

Because of its size, The Golden Hamster can usually be handled well by children.

Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster

Winter White Russian Hamster
This is one of the two species of Russian hamsters. It’s called Winter White because its coat, which is normally light to dark grey, gets lighter in the winter. In fact, many of these hamsters’ coats will turn completely white. In the Russian and Siberian winters, when the ground is often covered with snow, this white coat helps the hamster protect itself.

The Winter Whites usually reach a length of 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) and usually live about 1 ½ to 2 years.

These dwarf hamsters can live in groups (preferably of the same sex) if you put them together when they are young. But remember, because they are small, they can squeeze through the metal bars of some cages. Think about using a plastic cage or aquarium to house them.

They are usually good natured, but because of their small size, small children may have some trouble handling them.

Dwarf Campbell’s Russian Hamster

Campbells Russian Hamster
The more common type of Dwarf Russian Hamster, the Campbells Russian Hamster can be found in many pet shops. In some shops they are called Siberian Hamsters or Djungarian Hamsters.

The color of these dwarf hamsters is often gray-brown to light gray on the back, ivory on their sides, and white on the belly. They have a thin dark stripe down their back.

As adults, they can grow to about 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) long. Their average life is about 1 ½ to 2 years.

The Dwarf Campbells Russian Hamster is sociable. Like the Winter Whites, they can live in groups (preferably of the same sex) if you put them together when they are young. Plastic or glass aquariums are best for housing them as they can squeeze through metal bars.

Because of their small size and reputation for nipping, they may not be suited for handling by small children.

The Campbells’ and Winter White Russian Hamsters are two different subspecies. Therefore, avoid cross-breeding or buying a hybrid hamster.

Roborovski Hamster

Roborovski Hamster
The smallest of the dwarf hamsters are the Roborovski Hamsters, also called Robos, for short. They originated in Mongolia and Northern China. Their original colors were sandy-gold backs with a white belly. They also have what look like “eyebrows,” which gives them a distinct look.

Adult robos are about 2 inches (4 to 5 cm) long and can live for 3 to 3 ½ years.

You can put a pair or a few robos of the same sex together in the same cage. And definitely no metal bar cages for these dwarfs or they will be gone!

They are known or being active and fast which means they are great for watching, especially if you have a cage that is full of tubes and toys. See the article Inside Hamster Cages. On the other hand, because of their size and speed, they are not recommended for handling by small children.

For information about taking care of dwarf hamsters Click Here!

Chinese Hamster

Chinese Hamster
Although called a dwarf hamster, the Chinese Hamster really belongs to a group known as rat-like hamsters. Originating in Mongolia and Northern China, they are probably the most uncommon hamster you are likely to find in a pet store. Additionally, some states either prohibit their purchase or require you to have a permit to own them.

This hamster has a mouse-like body about 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) long. It can live about 2 ½ to 3 years. Its typical color is a dark brown back with a dark stripe along its spine and a belly that is off-white.

Its most distinguishing feature is the tail which is about a half-inch long. Pet the Chinese Hamster along its back and the tail will probably curl around your finger.

Although fearful of people, they do have a good disposition. Like the Roborovski Hamster, they are very fast moving which means they are fun to watch, but difficult to hold.

Some people report keeping them in pairs, but most recommend giving the active Chinese Hamster its own cage filled with tubes and toys.


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