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Dwarf hamster facts for kids

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Dwarf hamsters
Temporal range: Pleistocene to Recent
Phodopus sungorus.jpg
Dwarf winter white Russian hamster
Scientific classification

Miller, 1910

The dwarf hamsters represent a group of small hamsters in the genus Phodopus. Although they do not belong to this genus, the Chinese hamster is often referred to as a dwarf hamster as well.

Although more limited in colour than the Syrian hamster, dwarf hamsters are an alternative to pet owners who enjoy a smaller, more sociable hamster. The dwarf hamster was discovered by W.C. Campbell in the early 1900's.


Campbell's dwarf hamster

Phodopus campbelli: The lips and cheeks have white fur, and the region around the ears is grey. A dark dorsal stripe runs from the base of the neck to the base of the tail. The fur on the throat, abdomen and legs is white, and the fur on top of the paws is silvery white. When the cheek pouches are full, they extend back to the shoulders. The average body mass is 23.4 grams (0.8 oz).

Winter white dwarf hamster

Djungarian Hamster Pearl White
Phodopus sungorus

Phodopus sungorus: In the summer, the face is brown, which is slightly lighter than the fur around the mouth and ears. The rest of the head is dark brown with a black rim around each eye. A dark brown dorsal stripe runs from the back of the head to the base of the tail. The feet, tail, throat and abdomen are white, and the back is ash grey to dark brown.

Roborovski hamster

Phodopus roborovskii is the smallest species of Phodopus and of hamsters in general. The feet are unusually short, broad and densely hairy. The fur on the abdomen is grey, and the coat colour turns grey during moulting.

Adaptations to extreme environments

To survive the exceptional cold of winter, dwarf hamsters have evolved spherical, compact bodies with excellent insulation, including both fur and fat. Water is scarce in both summer and winter, and these hamsters have developed an excellent ability to conserve water by maintaining low evaporative water loss rates and concentrating urine.

During periods of extreme cold (below -20 °C), P. sungorus adopts a characteristic hunched posture, with its head and forepaws tucked under its belly. It fluffs its fur evenly, increasing its insulating quality. During periods of high heat (greater than 30 °C), this species flattens itself on its belly, with all four limbs splayed to the side. It grooms its fur into clumps, creating "ventilation gaps" between them.


In the wild, Phodopus primarily collect and eat seeds and dry fruits. They also eat other plant parts and insects.

Habitats and conservation status

Phodopus species inhabit the mountainous forests, steppes, and semideserts of Mongolia and the adjacent areas of China, northeast Kazakhstan, and the southern part of the West Siberian lowlands of Tuva and Dauria. All three species are widespread, although some isolated local populations exist.

Interactions with humans

Dwarf hamsters were introduced into the pet trade in the mid-1990s. They are considered excellent pets, especially for novice pet owners, because they are easy to maintain (requiring no special diet or conditions) and are generally not aggressive to people and tolerate living with other members of their species.

Phodopus species have developed into important laboratory organisms. They have been used for cancer research.

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