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Discover the Chinese Dwarf Hamster – A Hard to Find Pet That Is Well Worth the Hunt
If you’ve been researching dwarf hamsters for any length of time, then you’ve probably come across mention of the Chinese dwarf hamster. And you might have thought of this little guy as a pet when you read the description “mouse-like” or “mouse-like.” If so, you’re doing yourself a terrible disservice because, of the four species often referred to as “dwarf hamsters,” this cute pocket pet is the most sociable of its human companions and, by far, the most interesting.
Not really a dwarf
Although the Chinese hamster is often grouped with dwarf hamsters due to its similar size, scientifically speaking, it is not really a dwarf. Siberian, Campbell and Roborovski dwarf hamsters all belong to the genus, Phodopus, while the Chinese hamster belongs to the genus, Cricetulus. And the misunderstanding doesn’t stop there.
This fun little guy actually goes by several names; Striped hamster, Chinese striped hamster, and sometimes dwarf striped hamster. Two of these names add even more to the environment of confusion.
First, the name dwarf striped hamster is also used to refer to the Russian Siberian or white winter hamster (Phodopus sungorus). Second, there is debate as to whether the Chinese striped hamster is the same species as the Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus). There are some scientists who suggest that it is a separate but closely related species (Cricetulus barabensis), or a sub-species, the Latin name then was Cricetulus griseus barabensis. Some even suggest it’s the opposite; The Chinese hamster is a subspecies of the Chinese striped hamster. (Wow!)
Does not matter. Let the taxonomists figure it out. Whatever you call him, he’s an interesting little guy and a rare find…literally. Chinese hamsters are not easily bred in captivity and there are ownership restrictions in most of the United States. California, for example, requires you to get a permit.
Too cute to be a mouse
The Chinese hamster species is one of about six hamsters that comprise the group known as “mouse-like hamsters”. This is because their heads are longer and stronger than other hamsters, resembling that of a mouse. Their bodies are thinner and their fur shorter and sleeker. Plus, they have a longer tail which is about an inch long and semi-barked; can be used to aid climbing.
Like true dwarf hamsters, Chinese hamsters are small, growing to only 4 inches in length. Their natural color is agouti; individual hairs are “streaked” with both light and dark colors. They have cream-colored bellies and a black stripe running along their spine.
There are two color variations: the dominant spotted, which has a mostly white coat with gray-brown spots spread along the dorsal stripe, and the black-eyed white, an all-white hamster that is distinguished from an albino because its eyes they are black. Both of these variations are rare because breeding two similar animals of one of these varieties rarely produces viable offspring. Additionally, white males with black eyes are reported to be sterile.
Chinese hamsters have relatively long lives. Some of them have been known to live up to four years, although the average lifespan is two and a half to three years.
Lone set of dwarf hamsters
While true dwarf hamsters tend to be sociable with others of the same species, this is not the case with Chinese hamsters. In fact, although experienced breeders have some success keeping these animals in pairs or groups, this is not advisable for the novice keeper. Females are extremely aggressive and have been known to attack, and sometimes kill, other rodents that invade their territory.
Conversely, they are usually quite friendly with their human caretakers and very rarely bite. However, they can be a bit difficult to tame because they are extremely shy as youngsters and a bit jumpy.
These little creatures are fast, agile and expert climbers. They have the attractive behavior of grasping their human friend’s toe with all fours and, sometimes, their tail (much like an opossum would cling to a branch). They will not hesitate to jump from great heights, which can result in serious injury or worse. When handling them, it’s best to make sure they have a “safe landing” by minimizing the distance they would fall if they suddenly jumped out of your hands. These characteristics make the Chinese hamster a very poor choice as a pet for anyone under the age of 12 or older. Teenagers and young adults would find them totally attractive
Caring for your Hamster
Care requirements for a Chinese hamster are very similar to those of any other hamster. They need a good quality commercially prepared hamster seed mix supplemented with fresh greens, fruits and vegetables (avoid onions and their relatives). A special treatment of worms, crickets or a small amount of boiled egg may also be given. Hay can be used to supply additional dietary fiber and has the added benefit of providing a nesting material for your pet. A constant supply of fresh water is an absolute necessity to promote good health and a friendly disposition.
Because of their lanky bodies, little guys can easily squeeze through the bars of almost any cage. So wire cages are definitely not a good option. A 10 – 20 gallon aquarium with a tight screen cover is generally your best choice. As with all hamsters, pine or cedar nuts should not be used as litter. Aspen shavings or pelleted newspaper work well. Be sure to provide material that your hamster can build a nest with. Acceptable materials include hay and paper or clean shredded tissue that does not contain chemicals or dyes.
Be sure to include a nest box of some kind and a variety of hamster toys. Hamsters are very active creatures and also need to gnaw in order to keep their teeth sharp. An exercise wheel and various soft wooden chew toys are a must.
An extraordinary find
If you think a Chinese hamster is right for your family, your best bet for finding one is to find a professional breeder in your area. He or she will also be able to inform you of any laws governing the keeping of these wonderful little animals in your geographic region. Although difficult to find, Chinese hamsters are, without a doubt, a rare and fun pet.
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