The Chinese Hamster

by Chris Henwood

In the title you will notice that I say the Chinese Hamster, not the Dwarf Chinese Hamster. This is because, although the Chinese is indeed one of the smallest of the hamster species it is not regarded as a Dwarf species. Instead it comes into the group known as the Rat Like Hamsters.

The Chinese Hamster has been known in this country since at least 1919, but appears not to have been all that widely retained even within the various laboratories. It is also far from certain whether or not present populations are the result of a single capture, single group of captures; i.e. one expedition but many different trapping sites; or a number of different captures over a number of years. What is known however is that some of the animals in captivity can be traced back to a group captured just outside Peking in 1925.

In the wild the Chinese Hamster had quite a wide range; from Mongolia eastwards to China and Manchuria. The country they inhabit tends to be open rather dry country, such as the Steppes and the borders of the deserts. It is not thought that they inhabit true deserts. As with the dwarf Russian hamsters, very little is known about the Chinese hamster in the wild, it is thought that like the Syrian hamster they tend to occupy their own individual burrows quite closely sited but not connected to each other. In some areas it is thought that the burrows are so closely sited to each other that they appear to be living in colonies and be a highly social animal, however most authorities tend to agree that due to the behaviour of newly caught animals this does not seem very likely.

If you can read some of the early laboratory reports of the species you would think that you were dealing with some form of Tasmanian Devil. They report so many different forms of mutilation of males by females, mainly castration or outright killing. But as time passed it appears that the authorities began to do two things; firstly they found that even if a male died of natural causes some females would eat them. Some females would kill males that were sick or infertile and that lastly that if they out crossed,; i.e. did not mate brother to sister or father to daughter etc. too often then the aggressiveness was much less. It is now much less common for females to kill males, perhaps a combination of all the above has helped to give us a more docile strain of Chinese Hamster.

I am very careful not to mate along lines for too long and I have found that since the discovery of the Dominant Spot mutation the problem is even less common. The Dominant Spot strain is much less aggressive to each other than the normal, but I find that on occasions I come across certain strains that are normal coloured and are very aggressive indeed. If you come across one of these don't give up on them, try mating a Dominant Spot female with a normal male and you may be lucky and be able to breed in the unaggressiveness and outcross at the same time.

NOTE:- More details can be found about Chinese Hamsters in a book published by TFH entitled "A Step by Step Book about Dwarf Hamsters" by Chris Henwood - Peter Logsdail.