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Common Hamster Species

Updated on February 23, 2010

Pet Hamsters

When choosing a pet hamster, it's best to know the differences between the different species. There are about 5 common hamster species that are sold in the pet market, and each is a little different.

You will find that all hamsters will be nocturnal, spending most of their time sleeping during the day and active at night. Most hamsters will come out in the evening time, but some wait until it's completely dark and silent before starting to roam and play.

When it comes to choosing a pet hamster, it's really all in preference as to which you like the best. The Syrian hamster comes in the most variety of colors and patterns, but they're not the most ideal to house in pairs or groups, whereas the different dwarf species can be housed in pairs and small groups, but they do not come in as many colors or patterns.

When choosing a hamster, just look around and do your research so that you know what you're getting and how to care for it.

Syrian Hamster

Also known as teddy bear hamsters, these are the more popular pet hamster species. They are the larger of the species, typically ranging about 6 to 7 inches in length. This species is better for younger children as they are a little bigger.

Syrian hamsters are best when housed by themselves. They do not do well living with other hamsters, as they are very territorial.

On average Syrian hamsters live about two to two and a half years old, although some have lived as long as four years.

Roborovski Hamster

Phodophus roborovski is native to the deserts of western and eastern Mongolia, China, and Russia.

Roborovski hamsters measure about 4 inches in length. They are better adapted for cooler climates.

The species lives well in pairs. They are somewhat social and easy to handle, but they are a relatively fast hamster that will scurry out of the way with haste if they feel you're going to open your cage. It may take a little more time training this species to tolerate your handling, but it is possible with patience.

On average, Roborovski hamsters live about three to three and a half years.

Campbell's Hamster

Phodophus campbelli is native to arid areas common to central Asia, northern Russia, Mongolia, and northern China.

The Campbell's hamster is the second most popular pet hamster. These hamsters are considered one of the dwarf species, even though they are 3 1/4 to 4 3/4 inches in length.

These hamsters are harder to hold as they are a little smaller than the larger Syrian hamster.

The species is very social with other hamsters and will do fine living in pairs or small groups. Try to get same sex pairs with two females or two males.

On average, Campbell's hamsters live about one to two years old, but there have been reported 4 year old Cambell's hamsters.

Winter White Hamster

Phodophus sungorus is native to the grass steppes of eastern Kazakhstan and southwest Siberia.

The Winter White hamster is commonly mistaken for the Campbell's as both species are commonly referred to as Siberian hamsters or Djungarian hamsters. The two species do share common names, but they differ in size and native habitat. This species typically measure about 2 1/4 to 4 inches in length. They have larger eyes, smaller ears, and thicker fur than the Campbell's hamster.

The Winter White hamster will generally change color from winter to summer. In the summer, the coat will change from a gray-brown color with a black stripe down the back and side, but in the summer, the coat will change to white with the black dorsal and lateral side stripes remaining.

This species is social by nature which makes them good pets. They can live in small groups, keeping the same sex in the same group. If you want to house males, it's best to introduce them young.

On average, Winter White hamsters live about one to two years old, but there have been reported four years.

Chinese Hamster

Cricetus griseus is native to northern China and Mongolia.

Chinese hamsters are also known as Chinese rat-tailed hamster, the striped-backed hamster,  the striped hamster, or the gray hamster. The are generally about 4 to 5 inches in length.

When it comes to having a Chinese hamster as a pet, they are very gentle animals and do not move as quickly as the other hamster species. You can easily shoo a Chinese hamster into a box if it gets loose in the house.

The species can be a little compulsive and addicted to the wheel, but you'll regret ever removing the wheel.

On average, Chinese hamsters live about two years.

European Hamster

Cricetus cricetus is native to all across Europe from Belgium to Russia, but it is currently considered endangered throughout western Europe, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.

European hamsters are also known as the common hamster and the black-bellied hamster. They were once a common lab species. They are currently not pets.

Hamsters at a Glance

Winter White
Size: small 2.25 to 4 inches
Size: large 2 to 7 inches
Tail: less than 1/3 head-body length
Tail: more than 1/3 body length
Color: golden orand or variable
Color: gray or variable
Color: gray
Poorly defined or no dorsal stripe
Well-defined dorsal stripe
Side stripe


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    • profile image

      SamG 5 years ago

      Chinese hamster pairs rarely work it seems. Also might want to add that if you are buying a hamster from a pet store you will never get a Campbell Dwarf or a Winter White Dwarf it will be a hybrid of the two which causes serious health issues.

    • profile image

      Lulu 5 years ago

      They say dwarf hamsters can live together, and I don't know about Chinese or Roborovskis, but Campbell's don't work so great in pairs, and neither do Winter Whites. They will usually live together okay for a few months, but over time they will start fighting until one kills the other. It does depend on the individual hamster, but 4 times out of 5 it is a bad idea for the hamsters to be left together once they are purchased. Therefore it is safer to just separate them, or just buy one.

    • dinkan53 profile image

      dinkan53 6 years ago from India

      I think Domestic hamsters, raised in Special cages, usually with a wheel and small house, generally live shorter lives than hamsters in the wild. When I was in Ukraine, had two of them, but they got small life span and I decided not to buy more of them in future. You know I saw a variety of Beautiful hamsters in Ukraine.