What Are Dwarf Hamsters?
Dwarf hamsters are defined by the genus ‘Phodopus‘. There are three main species of dwarf hamster: Campbell’s, Roborovski’s and Winter Whites (often people group Chinese hamsters in with dwarves, but in terms of phylogeny they aren’t an official dwarf species, belonging to the genus ‘Cricetulus’). There are several myths surrounding dwarf species, including that they bite a great deal, are difficult/impossible to tame and I once saw them deemed ‘evil’. So hopefully this run down will help to clear some things up.
Campbell’s Dwarf (Phodopus Campbelli)
Campbell’s dwarves were first discovered in the early 1900’s by W.C. Campbell, and they originate from Russia, China and Mongolia. They’re the most commonly referred to species, and are known by many as the biters. In fact, Campbell’s, whether kept in pairs or solitary are prone to cage aggression if their housing is too small. Contrary to belief however, not every Campbell’s is devil spawn. They can in fact, be very sweet, and very tame. Like any hamster, the time taken can vary but with patience and a bit of TLC Campbell’s can be a great pet.
In the wild, Campbell’s live in great burrows which are maintained at higher temperatures than the outside in order to raise their young. They are scavengers, and will steal nesting material and food in any way they can. Because of this, Campbell’s much prefer a deep cage with plenty of digging material, and watching them build their nests and burrows can be very entertaining. Providing such an environment can also help to reduce boredom and aggression.
Although most seem to think that dwarves require less space, Campbell’s in the wild will travel up to a mile per evening, scavenging food and nesting material, another reason why space and a good quality wheel is important to reduce stress for your tiny friend.
Winter Whites (Phodopus sungorus)
Winter Whites are arguably one of the most fascinating dwarf species. Though less common than the Campbell’s, WW’s are more trusting of humans and are known for being easier to tame and less likely to run away/nip. In the wild, they’re most common in Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Siberia and are well adapted to their colder environments. It is debatable as to whether they are social creatures; many do best alone.
The most distinguishing feature of a WW is it’s bold dorsal stripe and ability to change colour according to the seasons. In summer, WW’s don a brown summer coat, which shifts to a pure white coat in winter. Their weight will also change considerably throughout the year.
WW’s can be sweet, fun and interesting but their rarity is worth noting. Very few ‘true’ lines of WW are still in existence, with most pet shop lines being hybrids (Campbell’s x WW). While hybrids can also be sweet, loving creatures, they are prone to a number of medical and neurological issues; the most common being higher susceptibility to diabetes and so it is worth bearing in mind when purchasing a ‘WW’ from a pet store or accidental breeder.
Secondly, their ability to communicate with litter mates/other hamsters is hindered. Campbell’s and WW’s are very different species, and they will communicate differently. Since the proportion of Campbell’s:Winter White genes is often unbalanced and will vary between hamsters, it may make it difficult for cage mates to communicate, a common suspected source or quarrels between those housed together.
Roborovski Dwarves (Phodopus roborovskii)
Roborovski dwarves are the smallest, and most unique dwarf species, originating in and around the Ghobi Desert. They are known to have the deepest burrows in the wild, and are said to run the equivalent of a human marathon per night. Roborovski’s are also the most social of the dwarf species, thriving often in pairs or small groups.
In terms of being tame, Roborovski’s are the most difficult. They’re very fast, and can be shy and timid but provide great entertainment when burrowing and can become sweet pets given the right owner and plenty of patience. For this reason, they are better suited to a more experienced hamster owner. They are particularly fond of sand baths and large enclosures, and will use near enough all the space that is provided.
A Final Word:
In conclusion, any species of dwarf can make a good pet, given the owner as the right knowledge, a lot of patience, and plenty of tasty treats! They are not nearly as ‘evil’ as they are so often made out to be; most cases of grumpy dwarves are actually caused by inappropriate housing and a general lack of knowledge. Dwarves can make sweet, cuddly and most of all fun pets to keep.