If you're trying to choose between a Syrian or Siberian hamster, you've got decisions to make about size, color, lifespan and the ability to keep more than one pet in a cage. The Syrian hamster is also known as the teddy bear or golden hamster, while the Siberian hamster is often called the winter white.
Mesocricetus auratus, the Syrian hamster, ranges between 5 and 7 inches long at maturity. If you purchase a young hamster, you can expect to have him around for two to three years. The teddy bear type has long fur, while the golden has a short coat. Less common are the rex, with a partially curled coat, and the satin, whose fur is quite shiny. While the original, wild Syrian hamster was reddish-brown, modern Syrian hamsters are available in various colors and patterns.
Phodopus sungorus sungorus, the Siberian hamster, originally hails from that part of Russia. That's also why the coat changes to white in the wintertime, to protect the little rodent from predators in its harsh native climate. The Siberian, a dwarf hamster, matures to between 3 and 4 inches, with a life expectancy of 18 to 24 months. The original Siberian is dark brown, turning white as winter approaches. You can also find them in gray and pearl versions. Campbell's hamster looks similar to the winter white, but they are not the same species.
You must keep a Syrian hamster by itself. Putting two Syrian hamsters together means war. That's true whether you're dealing with two males, two females or a male and female. If it's the latter, they'll get together long enough to breed when the female goes into heat and then want nothing to do with each other. Because Syrian hamsters are very active creatures, keep your pet in as large a cage as possible.
You can keep Siberian hamsters together, although if you're keeping males and females together you'll soon end up with a hamster population explosion. If your pets start fighting, separate them. Because Siberian hamsters are so small, if you keep them in a cage rather than an aquarium make sure the bars are close enough together so they can't squeeze through.
If it matters more how a hamster interacts with people than with its fellows, you might prefer a Syrian. If they're used to being handled, Syrians are usually gentle and good-natured. Siberian hamsters tend toward shyness, and they move faster than Syrians. These little guys can also be quite noisy. Feed your hamster a few treats daily to encourage him to warm up to you.
Since both types of hamsters are nocturnal, you're better off caring for and playing with them after dark. They could get grumpy if their sleep is disturbed, which is perfectly understandable.
Hamster image by Annekathrin Kohout 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.