The hamster is a rodent, but it looks different than any other rodent, including the mouse, rat, squirrel, guinea pig or gerbil. This roundish, cuddly animal is reminiscent of a living teddy bear, and several species' names reflect this similarity. A popular pet, the soft, fluffy hamster is a friendly and docile companion.
Syrian hamsters have stout, barrel-shaped bodies and stubby tails. Their ears are small and rounded while their eyes are small, dark and bright. Their paws are small and bare with tiny, sharp claws. Inside their cheeks, hamsters have enormous pouches for storing and carrying food -- these cheek pouches are not noticeable when empty, but they extend back almost to their hind legs.
Dwarf hamsters have a more streamlined, bullet shape than Syrians. They also have short tails, but their paws are furred.
The standard-size Syrian hamster is 4 to 7 inches long, with the larger females reaching the top end of the scale and males growing as big as 6 inches.
Dwarf hamsters come in a variety of species including Campbell's Russian dwarf, winter white Russian dwarf and Roborovski dwarf. The Roborovski is the smallest at only 1 1/2 to 2 inches long, while the other dwarf species reach a size of 3 1/2 to 4 inches. The Chinese hamster is not a true dwarf, although he's often called one -- his average size is 4 inches long.
Syrian hamsters are available in several different coat types.
- Short-haired Syrians are also called golden hamsters if they have the classic beige-and-white coloring, and fancy hamsters if the coat is any other color.
- Long-haired Syrians are also known as teddy bear hamsters.
- The other two fur types are rex, which has a curly or wavy texture, and satin, which is glossy. Both rex and satin coat types can occur in either short-haired or long-haired hamsters.
Campbell's Russian dwarf hamsters come in normal, satin, wavy or rex coat types. All other dwarf species have soft, short coats.
Syrian hamsters come in a wide range of colors and patterns. The original color was known as golden, but they are now bred in all solid colors and designer shades and patterns such as the black-and-white panda bear, the solid-black black bear, the white polar bear, the tan honey bear and the black-spotted Dalmatian. Campbell's Russian dwarf hamsters also come in a variety of fancy shades, colors and markings.
The winter white Russian dwarf, also known as a Siberian hamster, comes in a few different shades. Sapphire is purplish grey with a dark grey stripe on the back and an ivory belly. Pearl has white hairs sprinkled throughout the coat and sapphire-pearl combines the two colors. These hamsters may molt in the winter and grow a new white coat.
The Chinese hamster usually has grey-and-brown fur with a light-colored belly and a dark stripe down his back -- a natural color pattern known as agouti. A variation of this color pattern occurs in the white spotted Chinese hamster, which is light grey with a dark stripe on his spine. The Roborovski dwarf hamster is sandy gold with white on his belly and over his eyes.
Heather Vale is a writer, interviewer and seasoned journalist. She has authored news, entertainment and informational programming in TV, radio, print and online media. She is also a certified childhood fitness and nutrition specialist with a background in mind-body-spirit health, self-help, business, technology and pet breeding. Vale holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual arts from York University.