|European Hamster range|
The European hamster (Cricetus cricetus), also known as the Eurasian hamster, black-bellied hamster or common hamster, is the only species of the genus Cricetus. It is native to grassland and similar habitats in a large part of Eurasia, extending from Belgium to the Altai mountains and Yenisey River in Russia. Where abundant the animal is considered a farmland pest, and historically it has also been trapped for its fur. It has declined drastically in recent years and is considered critically endangered.
The European hamster has brown dorsal fur with white patches. The chest and belly are black. The tail is short and furred. It is much larger than the Syrian or dwarf hamsters, which are commonly kept as pets. It weighs 220–460 g (7.8–16.2 oz) and can grow to 20–35 cm (8–14 in) long with a tail of 4–6 cm (1.6–2.4 in). Its dental formula is 126.96.36.199.
The common hamster is a nocturnal or crepuscular species. It lives in a complex burrow system. It eats seeds, legumes, root vegetables, grasses and insects. It transports its food in its elastic cheek pouches to the food storage chambers. The storage chambers may be quite large and on average contain 2–3 kg (4.4–6.6 lb) of food, but exceptionally can be up to 65 kg (143 lb). It hibernates between October and March. During this time, it wakes every five to seven days to feed from the storage chambers. The adults reach sexual maturity when they are about 43 days old and breed from early April to August. The gestation period is 18–20 days and the size of the litter ranges from three to 15 young, which are weaned when aged three weeks. They are usually solitary animals.
Distribution and conservation status
It is typically found in low-lying farmland with soft loam or loess soils, although it may also inhabit meadows, gardens or hedges. It is found from Belgium and Alsace in the west, to Russia in the east, and Bulgaria in the south.
In captivity, the European hamster has an unusually long lifespan, living up to eight years.
The Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the European Union's highest court, ruled in 2011 that France had failed to protect the European hamster. The court said that if France did not adjust its agricultural and urbanisation policies sufficiently to protect it, the government would be subject to fines of up to $24.6 million.[needs update] By 2014, France had started a captive-breeding program, which aimed to release 500 hamsters each year into fields that farmers were paid not to harvest.
In 2020, the European hamster was classified as critically endangered across its global range by the IUCN Red List. Although the reasons for its drastic decline are not fully understood, it has been linked especially to habitat loss (for example due to intensive agricultural practices and the building of roads that fragment populations), but also pollution (even light pollution appears to significantly reduce local populations, unless counterbalanced by other factors), climate change and the historical fur trapping.
- Media related to Cricetus cricetus at Wikimedia Commons
- Data related to Cricetus cricetus at Wikispecies
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- Weinhold, U. (8 July 2008), Draft European Action Plan For the conservation of the Common hamster (Cricetus cricetus, L. 1758), Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, Standing Committee, 28th meeting Strasbourg, 24–27 November 2008
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