Types of Hamsters: The Dwarfs

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While the golden may be the classic, there is a new kid on the block who is tak- ing the hamster world by storm. Actually, make that several new kids. These are the various dwarf hamsters, adorable little critters who are becoming more and more popular in hamster-owning homes nationwide.
A relative newcomer to captivity, the dwarf thus far seems to be taking to life among humans quite well, earning positive reviews as a family pet. Dwarf ham- sters can range in length from 2 to 4 inches. There are several dwarf species, identified by their small size, delicate feet, and compact, ball-like physique, as well as their desire to live with others of their kind—an arrangement the solitary golden hamster simply cannot tolerate. 
Most of them are quite beautiful in addition to their “cute” factor. While some owners say dwarfs are more prone than goldens to bite the hands that feed them, others enjoy the fact that dwarfs, who may be more challenging to tame, tend to be more sociable with others of their own kind.

Their fans do tend to claim, however, that dwarf hamsters can be quite docile and friendly with the humans in their lives, if those humans are willing to maintain regular socialization practices and handle them very gently. But such endorsements must be tempered with the warning that hamster congeniality usually has more to do with an individual hamster than with the species at large. And always, it is rooted in positive experiences with humans and other hamsters, and positive associa- tions forged from being handled gently and socialized carefully from a young age.
The Russians
In the early 1900s, a gentleman named W. C. Campbell discovered a unique and very tiny hamster who would go on to immortalize his name. Today the Campbell’s, or Russian, dwarf is probably the most popular dwarf hamster on the pet market. The dwarf we call the Russian hails not only from Russia,
but also from China and Mongolia, and his popularity derives from his soft coat, the dorsal stripe that runs down his back, his small size, his round physique, and all the attrib- utes that have led to the popularity of dwarfs in the first place.As happens with any hamster who enjoys popularity, the Campbell’s Russian is found in many color variations and usually has a sleek, shiny coat, similar to that of the Syrian hamster. The Campbell’s Russian is not, however, the only Russian dwarf out there. The winter white dwarf, also know as the Siberian dwarf, is similar to the Campbell’s, but, as he would be the first to tell you, is not the same. He is the smaller of the two Russians, and he is called winter white because if kept in a cool environment, his typically gray coat can turn pure white. He is also known to be amiable and relatively easy to hand tame.
The Roborovski Dwarf
Another type of dwarf hamster you are more and more likely to find these days is the Roborovski dwarf. He is the smallest of the dwarfs. He is also the dwarf most likely to win sprint medals at the Olympics because he tends to be the fastest. Keep this in mind when you are choosing his home (a glass aquarium tank is probably a better choice than a traditional cage). You’ll also need an extra-safe security plan when you would like to spend time with him outside his habitat. If you ever need to identify an escaped Roborovski, you can recognize him by his white eyebrows and his lack of the dorsal stripe made popular by his Russian cousins.
The Chinese Dwarf
To the untrained eye, this dwarf hamster may resemble a mouse, the primary reason for this being the presence of a tail. He is usually found in one of two color variations: brown with a white stripe down the back and a white stomach, or white with brown patches. The Chinese hamster’s body type tends to be long and thin, and his personality depends largely on how he is tamed as a youngster. You may not quite know what you are getting with a Chinese hamster. Some are quite friendly, others . . . well . . . not so much. So it is essential that you look for breeders who hand tame their babies. This is not as difficult as it once was, because the Chinese dwarf is not nearly as rare on the American pet market as it was when dwarfs were first making a name for themselves as pets.
Wild Hamsters
With many rodent species that are typically kept as pets, you can sometimes choose between domestically bred animals and those who are captured in the wild and sold as pets. This is not the case with the hamster. Pet hamsters have been bred to be pets, pure and simple. However, there is one wild type of hamster who has quite a bit of experience with humans—most of it negative. This is the largest member of the hamster family, the common hamster, and he is not one you are likely to find as a pet. He is the only hamster seen readily in the wild today—although, unfortunately, not quite as readily as he once was.
A striking animal with an almost raccoon-like coat of black and brown, the common hamster is quite large for a hamster. This animal was once abundant throughout Russia and Central Europe, but his preference for a vegetarian diet proved to be his population’s undoing. Naturally drawn to the crops cultivated on farms, the common hamster was targeted, as so many rodents are, as an enemy of farmers. The result has been a severe decline in the numbers of com- mon hamsters in their native territory. Although common hamsters are not as plentiful in the wild as they once were, humanity discovered long ago that totally eliminating rodent populations is nearly impossible.
Periodically, there is talk of recruiting the common hamster into the ranks of pet hamsters, where he would join the golden and the dwarf. To date, that seems highly unlikely, given the common hamster’s somewhat irritable and classically wild temperament when forced into captivity. Nevertheless, he remains an object of fascination to pet hamster enthusiasts. The common hamster embodies the typical hamster characteristics to which hamster owners have become accustomed—plus, as a bonus, he has a talent for swimming.
Other wild hamsters that are not typically kept as pets include various hamsters who live in Africa, Asia, and Western Europe. Some of these animals even have tails. These include Chinese hamsters, native not only to China, but to Europe and Russia as well; mouselike hamsters, who call the Middle East home; and white-tailed hamsters, native to South Africa and commonly referred to as the white-tailed rat. Like their cousin the common hamster, these species do not have the temperament or the physical adaptability to thrive in a captive environment with humans.

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