The dwarf or Dzungarian hamster is found throughout Mongolia, Russia, and adjacent parts of Siberia and Manchuria.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native )
Coloration of Dzungarian hamsters ranges from gray to pinkish buff dorsally and whitish on the underparts (Nowak, 1991). Some individuals have a dark dorsal stripe. The ears are dark blackish, edged and lined with white. During the winter months the fur turns partly white. As a result of having been bred and sold as domestic pets, these hamsters have given rise to a number of mutations in coat color. Three color mutations are commonly recognized: albino, argente, and opal; and two pattern mutations, mottled and platinum.
The Dzungarian hamster has a rounded robust body and short broad feet, covered with thick fur throughout. They also have dark eyes, long whiskers, sharp claws, and cheek pouches. Head and body length is 7-10.5cm while the tail length is 0.6-1.8cm. As in all rodents, one upper and one lower incisor are found on each side of the jaw. Canines and premolars are always absent, and there are no more than three lophodont cheek teeth on either side. (Macdonald 1984, Hill 1997)
Average mass: 23.4 g.
Average basal metabolic rate: 0.313 W.
Habitat and Ecology
The Dzungarian hamster inhabits semi-arid areas. It usually prefers grassy plains, sand dunes, or wormwood steppes. (Nowak 1991)
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland
The Dzungarian hamster is mainly herbivorous and granivorous. Normally it eats seeds and any available plant material. As the dwarf hamster forages, it pushes food into the huge cheek pouches, which enable it to carry large quantities of food to its underground quarters. (Macdonald 1984)
Life History and Behavior
Status: captivity: 3.2 years.
Status: captivity: 3.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The Dzungarian hamster breeds from February to November. It is known to breed only once or occasionally twice a year in the wild, but it can breed more than that in captivity. In the wild, males and females meet only to copulate, then separate permanently. The gestation period is typically 20-22 days, but can be as short as 18-19 days. Litter size is usually between 5 and 12. The young are born blind and hairless, weighing approximately 1.4 grams. They are cared for by the mother alone, and they are weaned after a month or so. The young become sexually mature soon after weaning, or at a couple of months age, which helps to give this species an impressive capacity for reproduction. (Macdonald 1984, Nowak 1991, Parker 1990)
Average birth mass: 2 g.
Average gestation period: 20 days.
Average number of offspring: 5.5.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 120 days.
Evolution and Systematics
Macrophages in Siberian hamsters respond differently to pathogens depending on the photoperiod via an upregulation mechanism.
"Defense against pathogens is a critical component of comparative and ecological biology. However, pathogen recognition, a process necessary for the facilitation of systemic immune response, remains understudied in a comparative context, yet could provide insight into how the immune system interacts with pathogens in variable environments. We examined pathogen recognition by macrophages in relation to an ecological variable, day length, in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). Because peritoneal macrophages collected in long, summer-like day lengths are more responsive to a lipopolysaccharide (LPS) challenge compared to macrophages collected during short, winter-like day lengths, we hypothesized that these functional differences are mediated by variation in pathogen recognition, which occurs through binding to Toll-like receptors (TLRs). We predicted that expression of TLR2 and 4, the receptors that bind and respond specifically to LPS, would be upregulated in long vs. short days, and that expression of these receptors would reflect macrophage responsiveness to LPS. Macrophages collected during long days were again more responsive to LPS challenge compared to short-day macrophages; however, TLR2 and TLR4 expression was similar between photoperiods and were unrelated to our measure of macrophage responsiveness suggesting that other downstream intracellular mechanisms may be responsible for photoperiod-based variation in macrophage responsiveness in this species." (Navara et al. 2007:354)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Navara, Kristen J.; Trainor, Brian C.; Nelson, Randy J. 2007. Photoperiod alters macrophage responsiveness, but not expression of Toll-like receptors in Siberian hamsters. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology - Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology. 148(2): 354-359.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Phodopus sungorus
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Lower Risk/least concern(Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
Dzungarian hamsters are considered serious pests to agriculture in some areas. (Macdonald 1984)
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Dzungarian hamsters make good pets (Parker 1990).
The Djungarian hamster (Phodopus sungorus), also known as the Siberian hamster or Russian winter white dwarf hamster, is a species of hamster in the genus Phodopus. It is ball-shaped and typically half the size of the Syrian hamster, and therefore called a dwarf hamster along with all Phodopus species. Features of the Djungarian hamster include a typically thick, dark grey dorsal stripe and furry feet. As winter approaches and the days shorten, the Djungarian hamster's dark fur is almost entirely replaced with white fur. In captivity, this does not always happen. In the wild, they originate from Dzungaria, the wheat fields of Kazakhstan, the meadows of Mongolia, Siberia, and the birch stands of Manchuria.
Djungarian hamsters are common as pets in Europe and North America, and exhibit greater variance in their coats than those found in the wild. They reproduce often—more so than Syrian hamsters—and, as they have no fixed breeding season, can continue to produce large amounts of offspring all year round. Young pups will act aggressively to one another; whilst breeding females may show similar aggression to males.
The coat of the Djungarian hamster is less woolly than that of the Campbell's dwarf hamster, and apart from the normal colouring, they can be coloured sapphire, sapphire pearl, or normal pearl. The head length of the Djungarian hamster is 70 to 90 millimetres in length, the length of the tail is five to 15 millimetres, and the hind legs are 11 to 15 millimetres. The body weight changes dramatically throughout the year. It is at its lowest from July to August. In males, the body weight ranges from 19 grams (0.67 oz) to 45 grams (1.6 oz), and in females, 19 grams (0.67 oz) to 36 grams (1.3 oz). In human care, they are slightly heavier. The average lifespan of the Djungarian hamster is one to three years of age in captivity, though they can live longer. In the wild, they are known to live as little as one year.
In summer, the fur of the Djungarian hamster on the back changes from ash-grey to dark brown, or sometimes pale brown with a tint. The face changes to grey or brown, while the mouth area, the whisker area and the ears are slightly brighter. The outer ears and the eyes have black edges. The rest of the head is dark brown or black. From the head to the tail runs a black-brown dorsal stripe. The throat, belly, tail and limbs are white. The ears are grey with a pinkish tint with scattered black hairs. The hairs on the underside are completely white. The bright coat the bottom extends to the shoulders, flanks and hips in three arches upward. It is distinguished from the darker fur on the top of the existing black-brown hair, three curved line.
Apart from the typical colouration, Djungarian hamsters can also be coloured pearl, sapphire, sapphire pearl and marbled. Other colorations are available, but these are strongly suspected to appear only in hybrid crossings with Campbell Dwarf hamsters. Some of these colorations are mandarin, blue, argente, yellow blue fawn, camel, brown, cream, merle and umbrous.
In the winter, the fur is more dense. They sometimes have a grey tint on their head. More than ten percent of the hamsters kept in the first winter develop the summer coat. In the second winter, only a few change into the winter coat and winter colour is less pronounced. The moulting in the winter fur starts in October or November and is completed in December, while the summer coat begins in January or February and is completed in March or early April. The ears are grey with a pinkish tint. Moulting both run jobs on the head and the back of the spine to the sides, the legs and the underside. The hairs grow longer in the summer, to about ten millimetres long.
The pigmentation of hair is controlled by the hormone prolactin and colour genetics. Day length must be less than fourteen hours to initiate the change to winter coat. The change to the winter coat can be triggered in the summer by the short day lengths. The change occurs back to the summer coat in the autumn, when the length of the days change again. At internal temperatures hamsters in captivity start later with the changes. The winter colour is less pronounced in them. The eyes of the Djungarian hamster are black, unless it is albino in which case they are red.
In the wild
In the wild, the Djungarian hamster's fur changes colour in the winter. This adaptation helps them to evade predators in the snow-covered steppes of winter. The Djungarian hamster digs tunnels one metre deep leading to ground burrows where they can sleep, raise their young and hide from predators. The weasel is one of the Djungarian hamsters main predators. Most of these burrows have six entrances. In the summer time, the burrows are lined with moss. To keep the burrow warm in the winter, the Djungarian hamster closes all but one entrance and lines the burrows with animal fur or wool that it finds. The temperature inside the burrow is usually 16.7 °C (62.1 °F). Djungarian hamsters sometimes live in the semi-deserts in Central Asia. They also live in the dry steppes and wheat or alfalfa fields as well as on small fields in the forests of the region around Minusinsk. The fur on the Djungarian hamster's feet protect the feet from the cold ground from in the cold climates in the wild. The population density is highly varied. In 1968, the first four examples of the Djungarian hamster were caught in Western Siberia and brought to the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
The Djungarian hamster is a species of Phodopus. The Campbell's Dwarf Hamster is named as a separate species within the Phodopus sungorus species with respect to subspecies. Other subspecies are not distinguished. The Djungarian hamster was described by Peter Simon Pallas in 1773 as a mouse. The species name sungorus derives from the Dsungaria. In 1778, Pallas renamed the Djungarian hamster to mouse songarus. Ned Hollister ordered the Djungarian hamster in 1912 to the genus Phodopus. A. I. Argiropulo, in 1933, changed the name to priority sungorus and united the Djungarian hamster as a subspecies of Phodopus sungorus sungorus with the Campbell's Dwarf Hamster.
Djungarian hamsters are often found on the pet market in Europe and North America. Care of the Djungarian hamster is similar to all other species of Phodopus. Djungarian hamsters, along with most rodents, are prone to tumours. They can also receive injury in the cheek pouch by sharp objects damaging the fragile inner lining. Other health problems include bite wounds, broken teeth, constipation, dehydration, dental malocclusion, diarrhea and ear problems. The Djungarian hamster is easy to tame. In addition to natural colourings in the wild, ("ruddy" or "agouti") Djungarian hamsters in captivity come in a variety of different colours.
Djungarian hamsters reproduce at a faster rate than Syrian hamsters. Phodopus are able to become pregnant again on the same day that they have given birth. This can all happen within a thirty-six day period. This is done as a survival strategy to produce large numbers of offspring in a short period of time. This places tremendous demands on the mother. Research suggests biparental care in Campbell's hamsters (Phodopus campbelli) but not in Djungarian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). Frequent fighting can occur between the pups and as soon as they are weaned from their mother, they are separated from their mother. They should not be separated from their mother before three weeks of age. Most Djungarian hamster dwarf hamsters grow to 3 to 4" long. Djungarian hamsters breed all year round as there is no specific breeding season.
During the breeding time, the Djungarian hamster may become aggressive. After mating, the female may want to attack the male to protect her babies. The male will usually hide in holes or caves to escape from the vicious bite of the female Djungarian hamster. The Djungarian hamster's estrous cycle lasts four days, this means every four days, the female may accept the male back to breed again. This usually occurs when the darkness of the evening sets in. If a male and female Djungarian hamster are not housed together from a young age, it is difficult to tell if the female is willing to breed with the male.
Of the five species kept commonly as pets, only the Campbell's dwarf hamster and Djungarian hamsters are able to interbreed and produce live offspring or hybrids. Although hybrids make suitable pets, the breeding of hybrids and cloning can cause health and breathing problems. In addition, the widespread breeding and distribution of hybrids could threaten the existence of both pure species and subspecies of the ecosystem, resulting in only mongrels. Hybridizing causes each litter to become smaller and the young begin to form congenital problems.
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- Peter Simon Pallas 1778 quadrupedum species novae e ordine glirium p. 269 Quoted in Ross 1998 (p. 1, synonymy of the species)
- Ned Hollister 1912 New mammals from the highlands of Siberia Quoted in:. Ross 1998 (p. 1, synonymy of the species)
- Argiropulo 1933rd Quoted in:. Ross 1998 (p. 1, synonymy of the species)
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