Greta Garbo, icon of Hollywood's Golden Age, famously said, "I want to be alone." That could be the teddy bear hamster's motto. Also known as the Syrian hamster, the teddy bear doesn't want company. Certain dwarf hamsters are capable of peaceful cohabitation, but it's not a good idea to ever mix hamster species.
Teddy Bear Hamsters
Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) often go by the name of golden hamster or teddy bear hamster. Teddy bears feature long hair, while the goldens have short fur. Ranging in size from 5 inches to 7 inches long, they prefer people to their own kind -- other than your stroking and play once an evening, they want to be alone. You can expect your teddy bear hamster to live between two and three years.
After reaching sexual maturity at the age of 8 weeks, teddy bear hamsters must live in individual cages. Otherwise, they will fight incessantly. This is true whether you have two males, two females or a male and female in the same habitat. The breeding pair get together only for that purpose, then the fighting resumes. That means -- if you want more than one teddy bear hamster, perhaps one for each of your kids -- separate cage and accessories for each. Because these are active little creatures, buy the biggest cages possible for them. Fill them with lots of bedding, because hamsters love nesting.
Dwarf Hamster Breeds
Dwarf hamster breeds range from 2 inches long to 4 inches. They don't live quite as long as the Syrian variety, with a life span of one to two years. The Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus) looks more like a mouse than other hamster species. The Siberian hamster (Phodopus sungorus sungorus) is also known as the winter white hamster. That's because he turns white in cold weather, a flashback to the breeds' origin in Siberia when white fur protected them from predators. A similar-looking hamster is the Campbell's hamster (Phodopus sungorus campbelli) from China and Russia. Even though the Campbells and the winter white might look the same to anyone but hamster aficionados, you can't keep the Siberian and Campbell's hamster together or allow them to breed. Any hybrid offspring generally suffer from health issues. Not-so-fun fact: Campbell's hamsters are often afflicted with diabetes. Another dwarf breed, the Roborovski hamster (Phodopus roborovski), originates from central Asia and is the smallest of all hamster species.
If you'd like to keep specific types of dwarf hamsters in groups, put them together at a young age. Unless you intend to create little hamsters, don't put breeding pairs together. After puberty, you can easily see testicles in male hamsters, but before that it's not so obvious. To determine your hamster's sex, observe the distance between the anus and its genitals. The distance for the male hamster is twice that of the female. If your hamsters start squabbling, separate them before fighting escalates. That separation is probably permanent.
Fluffy hamster with beige flower image by Vedmochka from Fotolia.com
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.