Also called winter white Russian dwarf hamsters, Siberian hamsters are one of the two types of Russian dwarfs. It is difficult to distinguish between Siberian hamsters and their close cousins, the Campbell's Russian dwarf. Campbell's Russians are more common in the pet trade, and if you bought your hamster at a pet store, chances are that you have a Campbell's Russian dwarf. The best way to make sure that you get a Siberian hamster is to buy your pet from a professional breeder.
A Siberian hamster with normal species color has gray fur with a white or cream-colored underbelly and a pronounced dark stripe down his back. They grow to about four inches in length from the tip of their nose to the end of their stubby little tail, which they keep hidden in their bottom fur. When compared to other dwarf hamsters, their feet are furrier and they aren't quite as bulky. In the wild, Siberian hamsters turn white in winter in response to changing seasonal daylight patterns. Pet hamsters may not change colors, or may fade only slightly, unless they are exposed to natural daylight cycles.
Captive breeding has produced two color types in addition to the normal gray color. The pearl color type has a white body with a darker head. Sapphire types have blue-gray fur with a dark stripe down their back, a white or cream-colored belly and dark eyes. These color mutations don't change in winter.
Siberian hamsters are social animals that are happiest when kept in pairs or groups. Make sure your hamsters all are of the same sex to prevent a population explosion. Dwarf hamsters have a reputation for being nippy and hard to hand-tame, but Siberians are easier to handle than most dwarfs. With patience and daily interaction, you'll soon have a pet that will enjoy your company and stand up on his hind legs to greet you when you approach the cage. These lively, active little hamsters have no fear of jumping out of your hand, so hold them gently but securely. Small children should sit down when holding them to prevent injury if the hamster leaps from their hands. Like all hamsters, Siberians are nocturnal and most active between 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM.
Mother Siberian hamsters give birth to 4 to 6 young, called pups, after a gestation period of about 19 days. They can have another litter every 24 days, and the young begin breeding when they are only a month old. It doesn't take strong math skills to see why you should keep these pets in same-sex pairs. If a female Siberian hamster becomes pregnant while she is nursing young, she can put her pregnancy on hold so that the fertilized eggs won't mature until she weans the current litter. The only other mammals known to do this are bats. The male Siberian hamster helps to raise the young, and if he is killed after fertilizing her eggs, the female can choose not to become pregnant.
hamster on a nut image by Silvia Ottaviano from Fotolia.com
Jackie Carroll has been a freelance writer since 1995. Her home-and-garden and nature articles have appeared in "Birds & Blooms" and "Alamance Today." She holds a Bachelor of Science in medical technology from the University of North Carolina.