Dwarf Hamster

Reviewed by: BD Editors

A Winter White Russian dwarf hamster
There are ten species of dwarf hamsters.

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Rodentia
Family Cricetidae
Genus There are two: Cricetulus and Phodopus
Species Ten in total
Niche Omnivorous
Length 2 – 3 inches (5.1 – 7.6 cm)
Weight 1 ounce (28 grams)
Lifespan The average is 1 – 2 years
Social Structure Can be solitary or in small groups
Conservation Status Least Concern
Preferred Habitat Arid areas such as deserts and scrubland
Average Litter Size 1 – 13
Main Prey Species Grains, seeds, berries, insects and other invertebrates
Main Threats Agriculture

The Basics

Dwarf hamsters are small mammals with stout bodies, short tails, and stubby legs. They are usually two to three inches in length, although some can be smaller. There are ten species in total; seven species belong to the genus Cricetulus, while the remaining three belong to the genus Phodopus. The smallest dwarf hamster is the dwarf desert hamster, which is just two to four inches in length!

Dwarf hamsters are found through much of Europe and Asia. They are located across central Europe, with their range extending as far north as Siberia, Mongolia, China, and Korea. Their southern range reaches Syria and Pakistan. They live in arid regions such as deserts and scrubland, as well as being found in some mountainous areas and forests. Each species has its own specific range.

These mammals are omnivores and feed on a variety of food, including seeds, grains, fruits, berries, and invertebrates. Each species has a different diet based on the habitat it lives in. Some of these hamsters are nocturnal and only forage at night. In comparison, others are active during parts of the day, especially at dawn and at dusk.

A winter white russian hamster next to an apple.
A Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamster.

While these animals do not hibernate in the winter, they will enter a period of inactivity called torpor, which can range from a few days to several weeks. Their breeding season is from April to October. During this time, the female can have two to five litters. Each litter can have 1 to 13 young after a short gestation period, lasting just 13 to 22 days. The young are born hairless and blind and depend on the female to take care of them.

Dwarf hamsters can be preyed upon by many species, including foxes, weasels, snakes, and owls. Aside from being prey for several species, hamster populations are also threatened by humans. Agriculture is a large threat to these animals as it results in the disruption of their habitat. Some farms even see them as pests and trap or poison them as they destroy crops.

Pet Trade

Hamsters have become a popular pet over the years due to their relatively low maintenance. They are also fairly easy to tame and are more social than other hamsters, meaning they can be kept in same-sex pairs often without any difficulty. There are four species of dwarf hamster that have been domesticated:

  • Campbell’s Russian dwarf (Phodopus campbelli)
  • Winter white Russian dwarf (Phodopus sungorus)
  • Roborovski dwarf (Phodopus roborovskii)
  • Chinese dwarf (Cricetulus griseus)

The smallest of these is the Roborovski dwarf hamster, which is just 2 inches long! This hamster was first discovered and described by scientists in 1903. In the wild, they are found in the deserts of central Asia. These small hamsters are fast-moving, which can make them challenging to handle.

Campbell’s dwarf hamsters are probably the most commonly kept species of dwarf hamsters. They look very similar to winter white dwarf hamsters. The first hamster was collected in Mongolia on July 1, 1902. These hamsters are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active at dawn and at dusk.

A  pet Chinese dwarf hamster surrounded by toys
Chinese dwarf hamsters are popular pets.

Interesting Insights from Dwarf Hamsters

These little mammals are often well known because several species are kept as pets. However, they also display some fascinating examples of biological adaptations that enable them to survive in the wild. Let’s take a closer look.

Food Storage

Hamsters are excellent diggers and construct burrows underground where the temperature is more stable. The tunnels usually have multiple entrances and are made up of several chambers.

Wild hamsters have to cope with times when food is scarce. To do this, they gather as much food as they can and store it for times when food is difficult to find. This keeps them alive during periods of food deprivation. One adaptation that they have evolved to help them be more efficient in collecting their food for storage is their cheek pouches.

Hamsters have two cheek pouches, which are expandable sack-like structures in their mouth that they can use to carry food. The hamster can gather and carry a week’s worth of food in these spacious cheek pouches and take it back to their burrow. There is can be stored in one of the chambers in its burrow that was built for this purpose.

A Robo dwarf hamster sat in a food bowl, storing food in its cheek pouces
Hamsters use their cheek pouches to store food that they gather.

Scent Glands

Hamsters have extremely poor eyesight. Instead of relying on their vision to find their way back home after they have been out gathering food, they rely on another mechanism. Hamsters have scent glands located on their backs that secrete a specific smell that they can identify.

To find their way around and mark where they have been, they rub their backs against objects as they move about the environment. When they are finished gathering food, they follow the scent as a trail guide back to their burrows.

Continually Growing Teeth

Hamsters, like all rodents, have two incisors that continue to grow throughout their life. This ensures that they can keep their teeth sharp and that they regrow if they break them.

To prevent their teeth from causing damage to their mouths or lips, hamsters must gnaw on wood and other hard substances to ensure that their teeth remain a good length.

Cite This Article

Biologydictionary.net Editors. "Dwarf Hamster." Biology Dictionary, Biologydictionary.net, 28 Jul. 2020, https://biologydictionary.net/dwarf-hamster/.
Biologydictionary.net Editors. (2020, July 28). Dwarf Hamster. Retrieved from https://biologydictionary.net/dwarf-hamster/
Biologydictionary.net Editors. "Dwarf Hamster." Biology Dictionary. Biologydictionary.net, July 28, 2020. https://biologydictionary.net/dwarf-hamster/.

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