If you have always wanted a Russian hamster, there are two different breeds that you should explore: Campbell’s Dwarf Russian Hamster and the Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster. Both are small hamsters, four inches and under, and they are often confused with one another. If you got yours at a pet store it is most probably a Campbell’s as the Winter Whites are rare and only obtained from breeders.
The Campbell’s Russian Hamster was named for W.C. Campbell, who was the first person to capture a wild one in Tuva, Mongolia in 1902. It is sometimes called a Djungarian hamster because that is the name of the location in Mongolia where it was found. The Campbell’s Russian can also be found in Central Asia, Northern China, and parts of Russia. In the wild, this hamster lives in steppes, which are grass-covered plains. They dig burrows that sometimes extend as far underground as three feet.
These burrows are lined with dry grass and sheep’s wool which they scavenge. There are many doors for escape and entry should one of the hamsters be bothered by a predator. The temperature in the burrow is around 62 degrees even though outside might be in the mid-seventies or below zero. Campbell’s hamsters, like most hamsters, are nocturnal and will travel as far as a mile in the dark in search of food. The pockets in their cheeks allow them to carry home plenty of food when it is found.
All of the first Campbell’s hamsters were gray in color but eventually breeding produced a white one. Now they come in several colors and have markings such as a band of a different color around the neck, spots, and mottling. Hamsters do not have very good vision and use scent to mark territory and to find a mate. The scent glands on a Campbell’s Russian Hamster are located on the abdomen of the male and on the genitalia of the female.
The Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster is the second kind of Russian hamster. Like many rodents, these hamsters have the ability to change their color to white in the winter for protection. Normally they are dark gray color. In the late 1980s a couple of different colors started to be found in White Russians. The first had a white coat with black guard hairs, black eyes and gray ears. This one became known as the Winter White Pearl. The second had the same color ears and eyes but the coat was a smoky gray. There was a tinge of blue as well. This hamster became known as the Winter White Sapphire.
If you should desire a Russian hamster, the Campbell’s is easier to find, as many pet stores that have Syrian hamsters also have these dwarfs. To find either, the best place to look is at hamster breeder directories, which can be found on the internet. The Russian Dwarf hamsters are very cute and make great pets.