|A wild-type Chinese hamster|
The Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus or Cricetulus barabensis griseus) is a rodent in the genus Cricetulus of the subfamily Cricetidae that originated in the deserts of northern China and Mongolia. They are distinguished by an uncommonly long tail in comparison to other hamsters, most of whose tails are stubby. Chinese hamsters are primarily nocturnal, however they will stay awake for brief periods, in between naps, throughout the day.
Chinese hamsters grow to between 82 and 127 mm in body length (tail length 20–33 mm) and weigh 1.7 grams at birth, then as they get older can weigh 30–45 grams. Males have a fairly large scrotum relative to their body size. Their body proportions, compared to other hamster species – most of which tend to be compact – appear "long and thin" and they have (for a hamster) a relatively long tail. They live two to three years on average.
The wild color is brown with a black stripe down the spine, black and grey ticks and a whitish belly. This coloration, combined with their lithe build and longer tail, makes them look "mousy" to some eyes and, in fact, they are members of the group called ratlike hamsters.
The taxonomic names of the Chinese hamster and the closely related Chinese striped hamster are unsettled. Some authorities consider the Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus) and the Chinese striped hamster (Cricetulus barabensis) different species, whereas others classify them as subspecies, in which case the Latin name of the Chinese hamster becomes Cricetulus barabensis griseus, and the Chinese striped hamster becomes Cricetulus barabensis barabensis.
In the past, before scientists started using other rodents, Chinese hamsters were commonly used lab animals. They were replaced by the common mouse and rat, which are more convenient to breed and to keep in small cages; however, several biotech drugs are still being produced by putting the gene for the protein into Chinese hamster ovary cells, which then produce the protein.
Female Chinese hamsters were generally kept as pets, and males used solely for breeding. Being naturally solitary, they tend to be aggressive if kept in enclosures which are too small, or are inhabited by other hamsters. They can be nippy, but quickly become tame. Once successfully tamed, they are easily handled. Chinese hamsters can be quite nervous as youngsters but, once they are tamed, can display an endearing calm and gentle character. One of their endearing habits is clinging to a handler's finger with all four paws – rather like a harvest mouse on a corn stalk.
Besides the wild colour, a well-known variation in domesticated breeds is the "spotted-white" or "dominant-spot" Chinese hamster, which often is grayish-white all over, with only a dark stripe on its back.
As yet, there are only three colour varieties among domesticated Chinese hamsters are:
- normal / wild type
- dominant-spot or spotted-white
- black-eyed white
normal / wild-type (note the large scrotum, left)
dominant-spot or spotted-white (note the tail lengths)
The Chinese Dwarf Hamster is the animal of choice featured in the speculative evolution project Hamster's Paradise.
- Confusingly, the name dwarf hamsters includes several other species in the same genus Cricetulus (Tibetan dwarf hamster, Kam dwarf hamster, Lama dwarf hamster, long-tailed dwarf hamster, grey dwarf hamster, Sokolov's dwarf hamster) as well as hamsters in the genus Phodopus, (Russian dwarf hamster, Campbell's dwarf hamster, Roborovski dwarf hamster). Often dwarf hamster is used to refer only to Phodopus. All of these hamsters are in the subfamily Cricetinae.
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