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What is a Siberian Dwarf Hamster

By Edited Sep 22, 2016 0 0

Not sure what a Siberian dwarf hamster is? This article introduces the two hamster species that people refer to when they say Siberian dwarf hamster. If you are looking for detailed information on Siberian dwarf hamsters including the differences and similarities between the two species and how to care for Siberian hamsters, the Siberian hamster 101 article discusses that in more detail.

Siberian dwarf hamster or Siberian hamster actually refers to one of two dwarf hamster species, the Winter White dwarf hamster or the Campbell's dwarf hamster. The correct scientific names for each is Phodopus sungorus and Phodopus campbelli respectively.

Besides "Siberian dwarf hamster", both of these hamsters are often referred to as the Russian dwarf hamster or Djungarian hamster. Different sources such as books and web sites use these names on one or the other or interchangeably and the only way you can be sure they are referring to a specific hamster is if Campbell's or Winter White is mentioned. 

Siberian Dwarf Hamster - Winter White

The use of the same names to refer to two different hamster species makes it even more confusing for new pet owners. This is especially so if pet stores do not label their dwarf hamsters properly and just categorize them under one of these names. And pet stores do that a lot because many of them are not even sure whether they have a Campbell's or a Winter White. There have even been cases where uninformed pet stores mistakenly classify one as the other or put both types together. Such mistakes are not only inconvenient for people who want to buy the Campbell's or Winter White specifically, they also contribute to the increased hybridizing of the two breeds. Yes, it's possible for Campbell's and Winter White dwarf hamsters to interbreed -- they are the only two hamster species in the world that are able to do this.

However, it is understandable why pet shops get these hamsters wrong. Both dwarf hamster species appear very similar and even scientists have gotten them wrong for years. To the untrained eye, they are almost identical but the Winter White and Campbell's do have slight differences in the way they look.

 

Unidentified Siberian dwarf hamster

Unidentified Siberian Dwarf Hamster
Credit: By Guitarman63mm (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This dwarf hamster was not identified in its original photo. If you ask me, it is probably a Campbell's dwarf hamster due to its larger ears and creamy border between the underbelly and the top coat.

Why is it called a Siberian dwarf hamster?

Both hamsters can be found in Siberia although there are also a few other places where they originate from. Why they are not called Mongolian (although Djungarian hamster comes from Djungaria, which is a place in Mongolia) hamsters or Kazakhstanian hamsters are beyond my scope of knowledge. If I had to guess, it's probably because it's easier to say or spell Siberia.

More on the Siberian dwarf hamster

Dwarf Hamsters (Complete Pet Owner's Manual)
Amazon Price: $5.55 $4.38 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 22, 2016)
If you would like to find out more about the Siberian hamster, the Dwarf Hamsters book is a great read that talks about the origins, buying, handling, care of and other information related to dwarf hamsters.

In this book, the Campbell's dwarf hamster is also referred to as the Djungarian hamster but they call it the Campbell's as well so you know what they're talking about.

Is it always possible to identify your Siberian dwarf hamster?

Sadly, no. As I have mentioned above, Campbell's dwarf hamsters and Winter White dwarf hamsters are able to interbreed. Due to uninformed pet stores and amateur breeding of dwarf hamsters at home, both of these species of dwarf hamsters are frequently (and unintentionally) put together to create hyrbids. There is also deliberate hybridizing of these hamsters to produce more attractive colors.

Hybrids may look more like one species or the other or have a combination of physical traits from both. It can be difficult or even impossible to tell whether your Siberian dwarf hamster is a hybrid because of this. Once a hybrid is created, its descendants are all hybrids and it would be impossible to revert to a pure breed no matter how many generations of the same species you breed it with.

The only way to be sure you are getting a purebred Winter White or Campbell's dwarf hamster is to get it from a reputable hamster breeder.

What's wrong with hybrids?

Although hybrids or puddings can come in attractive colors, they're still not a good idea due to various issues. Some of them are:

  • Campbell's and Winter Whites do not breed with each other in the wild and it's only due to domestication that hybrids are  produced. If the two hamsters species were to meet in the wild, they would likely ignore or attack each other.
  • Hybrids tend to have shorter lifespans. Your dwarf hamsters can live for about 2 to 3 years but hybrids die even earlier.
  • Hybrids tend to be sterile or infertile.
  • They are more prone to genetic defects and disease such as diabetes. It's difficult to watch your pet suffer so if you want to reduce the chances of your pet dying slowly and painfully from disease, it's best not to get a hybrid (or create one).
  • Crossbreeding your hamsters can cause the female to die if the pups are too big

lacrimahamstery on YouTube explains Campbell's Winter Whites and hybrids (puddings) much better than I do. You can watch her video below. Skip to 1:27 if you're interested only in the part about hybrids. She talks about how to identify a Campbell in front part of the video and I would just watch the whole thing because it's so informative.

Hamsterlopaedia: A Complete Guide to Hamster Care
Amazon Price: $42.78 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 22, 2016)
Although not specifically on Siberian dwarf hamsters, this book is a wonderful resource on hamsters in general and has a huge A-Z compilation of hamster diseases.
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