Often when buying a dwarf hamster from a pet store all you’re told is that it’s a “Russian” or “Siberian” hamster. In reality nearly all dwarf hamsters sold in pet stores are Campbells Dwarf Russian hamsters (if you aren’t sure whether you have a Campbells or a Winter White Russian check out our explanation at the bottom of the Dwarf Hamster page). You can also check out the pictures in the various hamster breed sections and see which photos most resemble your own hamster.
A LITTLE HISTORY:
The Campbells Russian hamster, Phodopus campbelli, was named in honor of W.C. Campbell, who captured one of these fine hamsters in Tuva, Mongolia in July of 1902. It is also commonly referred to as the Djungarian hamster because it commonly lives in a region in Mongolia known as Djungaria. Campbells Russians can also be found in northern China, central Asia and parts of Russia.
CAMPBELLS RUSSIANS IN THE WILD!
The Campbells Russian hamster usually lives in steppes (vast, semi-arid grass covered plains), here they are able to dig their burrows, which often extend three feet into the ground. These burrows are usually very comfortable, with the walls of it’s chambers lined with scavenged sheep wool and dry grass. While the temperature outside the burrow can range from 5 below 0 to 72 degrees (-25 to 23 celsius) the temperature inside will remain around a cozy 62 degrees, the perfect temperature for raising young Campbells Dwarf Russians. Campbells’ burrows typically have several exits and entrances from which the hamster can make a quick get away should they encounter a predator. Owls, foxes, falcons and weasels are always eager to pounce on an unsuspecting and unguarded hamster. These hamsters travel up to a mile at night (they are nocturnal animals) in search of food. The Campbells Russian can also hold very large amounts of material in their expandable cheek pouches allowing them to store lots of food or bedding on their nightly runs to be stored later back at their burrow.
COLORS AND MARKINGS:
Until the introduction of the ARGENTE, discovered in the former Soviet Union in the late 1970’s, the only color available to the pet consumer was AGOUTI (which is sometimes referred to as their natural or normal wild color). The albino first appeared in Hungary in the late 1980’s (white with pink eyes). Since then, some creative breeding has increased the number of colors and markings; including the satin coat which was first introduced in 1981, with more colors being developed on a regular basis. The first broken color was developed in the UK in the early 1990’s and the fun began.
It is assumed that the Campbells Dwarf has numerous spotting genes, but only 3 have been clearly identified at this point; the collar, the mottled, and the spot. Since there is no “standard of perfection” recognized internationally, there are several names attached to some of the colors and markings. We will not enter the controversy surrounding the proper name. Instead a list follows which will indicate come of the various names used to refer to various markings.
SPOTS: Sometimes referred to as Mottled or Broken color. It is generally associated with an animal with a white body and definite spotting over the back and the head.
PEARLS: Also referred to as PLATINUM, a white animal with a dorsal stripe and colored ticking on the face and flanks.
COLLAR: A colored hamster with a solid white band around the shoulders and the neck.
MOTTLED: A colored animal with white spotting that is feathered into the color. Spotting is not as precise as that of the actual spot.
ARGENTE is sometimes referred to as Cinnamon or Sandy in color. Cross-breeding with the OPAL, has led to the introduction of several new colors: BLUE, Blue Fawn, Lilac Fawn, BLACK and BLACK EYED ARGENTE.
Although Dwarfs don’t carry some of the lethal genes known to exist in Syrians, if two spotted dwarfs (normally red eyed dwarfs) are mated, there is the possibility of creating the Anopthalmic White Gene as seen in the Syrians. Normally about 25% of the litter will be Anopthalmic (eyeless) Whites and generally won’t live past two weeks of age because they will also be toothless. There are however, exception to this rule. The picture to the right is of an Anopthalmic White Dwarf, she is now four months old. She isn’t as large as others her age. Her diet consists of a bowl of assorted grains that she only picks at, as well as cooked cereals and canned dog food. She doesn’t have problems finding her way around the cage or running in the wheel.
CAMPBELLS SCENT GLANDS:
Like the Syrians, Campbells Dwarfs have scent glands. Unlike the Syrians however, they are not located in the hip, but are discharged from glands at the corner of the eyes, pouches, behind the ears and from the rectal and urinary vents. Such glands are also located on the male’s abdomen and the female’s genitalia. The primary function of these scent glands is to mark territory through grooming. In the wild, these hamster would mark the entrance to their burrows by rubbing their ears and eyes with their paws and scratching and rolling.
Much like Hansel and Gretel with their bread crumbs, the dwarf hamster with its poor eyesight marks the trail they follow using the odor from its scent glands. By grooming before leaving the burrow, the scent is adhered to its paws therefore marking their entire trail which can then be back-tracked all the way back to the safety of the burrow. The scent on both the trail and the entrance can last up to eight days.
Check out some pictures of the many different colors in our Hamster Gallery photo section.