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Are Russian Dwarf Hamsters Really Russian?

Of the 25 known species of hamsters found scattered around the world, only four of them are referred to as dwarf hamsters. And, one of the four, the Chinese dwarf hamster, which is similar in size to the larger dwarfs, is technically not a true dwarf hamster. In fact, they look more like a rat and actually have an inch long hairless tail, which has the ability to grab and hold. The true pygmy has a very short, fur-covered tail that is usually undetectable when in a sitting position. The male Chinese hamster also has a much larger scrotum than the true dwarf hamster types. In any case, the rat-like Chinese hamster, or “muscle” as it is sometimes referred to, is not as commercially available as the true three dwarfs.

The species most commonly found in the typical pet store is the Campbell’s Dwarf hamster, which is more commonly known as the “Russian Dwarf Hamster.” Curiously, the Russian label in no way distinguishes them apart from the many other species also found in Russia. And, if that isn’t confusing enough, they are also commonly referred to as “Dzungaria Hamsters” since most of them are native to the Mongolian region of Dzungaria. In the end, however, and all names aside, almost all dwarf hamsters available at any pet store will be Campbell’s Dwarf. They usually reach about four inches in length and have a rounded body shape.

In the wild, these small rodents have adapted to the extreme temperatures that characterize the semi-arid regions of the Russian plains. Burrowing nearly three feet below the surface, the Campbell’s dwarf hamster creates a comfortable habitat with numerous tunnels and openings that facilitate frequent and sudden escapes from predators. It also uses the insulating properties of materials such as sheep’s wool, which is commonly found in this area, as well as dried grass, to line the walls of the burrow chamber. This helps maintain a constant burrow temperature in the low to mid-60s, while surface temperatures can range anywhere from below zero to the mid-70s Fahrenheit.

The natural color of the Campbell Dwarf is brown grey, with a whitish underbelly, however twenty or so years of captivity and creative breeding have produced a wide variety of branded coats, with a mixture of browns, greys, whites and unique patterns commonly referred to as pearl, platinum, speckled, cinnamon, sandy, fawn, black and speckled, to name a few. In fact, the variety of colors represented in a litter of puppies is nothing short of remarkable. So if you decide to buy a hamster, don’t think that the plethora of options will make it easy to decide which one to bring home.

Campbell’s Dwarf Hamsters are indeed excellent pets, as their immense popularity would suggest, but they have the unpleasant reputation of biting when frightened or threatened. Their small size makes them somewhat delicate and less than ideal for smaller children to handle. Plus, their thick fur makes them look a little bigger than their actual body size, so don’t assume they can’t escape a standard barred enclosure. Unlike some hamster species, these little guys get along well with each other, especially when introduced at a young age. Siblings of the same sex are ideal mates and mates for housing in the same hamster cage.

Copyright 2010 Walter Tekman. All rights reserved. Feel free to share the entire content of this article with your friends or post it on your website, as long as it remains intact with all links intact, including this notice.

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