European hamster

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European hamster
Hamster photographed at Vienna Central Cemetery
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Cricetidae
Subfamily: Cricetinae
Genus: Cricetus
Leske, 1779
C. cricetus
Binomial name
Cricetus cricetus
European hamster range (green)
  • Cricetus albus Fitzinger, 1867
  • Cricetus babylonicus Nehring, 1903
  • Cricetus canescens Nehring, 1899
  • Cricetus frumentarius Pallas, 1811
  • Cricetus fulvus Bechstein, 1801
  • Cricetus fuscidorsis Argyropulo, 1932
  • Cricetus germanicus Kerr, 1792
  • Cricetus jeudii Gray, 1873
  • Cricetus latycranius Ognev, 1923
  • Cricetus nehringi' Matschie, 1901
  • Cricetus niger Fitzinger, 1867
  • Cricetus nigricans Lacépède, 1799
  • Cricetus polychroma Krulikovski, 1916
  • Cricetus rufescens Nehring, 1899
  • Cricetus stavropolicus Satunin, 1907
  • Cricetus tauricus Ognev, 1924
  • Cricetus tomensis Ognev, 1924
  • Cricetus varius Fitzinger, 1867
  • Cricetus vulgaris Geoffroy, 1803
  • Mus cricetus Linnaeus, 1758

The European hamster (Cricetus cricetus), also known as the Eurasian hamster,[3] black-bellied hamster[4] or common hamster,[5][6][1] is the only species of hamster in the genus Cricetus.[2] 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.[7] Historically, it was considered a farmland pest and had been trapped for its fur. Its population has declined drastically in recent years and is now considered critically endangered.[1][8] The main threats to the species are thought to be intensive agriculture, habitat destruction, and persecution by farmers.[1]


Skull of a European hamster

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 (Mesocricetus auratus) or dwarf hamsters (Phodopus sp.), which are commonly kept as pets, and is the largest known species of hamster. 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 In captivity, the European hamster has an unusually long lifespan for a rodent, living up to eight years.


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).[9][10] It hibernates between October and March. During this time, it wakes every five to seven days to feed from the storage chambers. They are usually solitary animals.[9]


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.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

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. A significant population is found in Vienna Central Cemetery in Austria.


The Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Union's highest court, ruled in 2011 that France had failed to protect the European hamster.[11] The government would be subject to fines of up to $24.6 million if France did not adjust its agricultural and urbanisation policies sufficiently to protect it.[12][needs update] By 2014, France had started a captive-breeding programme, which aimed to release 500 European hamsters each year into fields that farmers were paid not to harvest.[13]

In 2020, the European hamster was classified as critically endangered across its global range on the IUCN Red List. The reasons for its drastic decline are not fully understood. It has been linked especially to habitat loss due to intensive agricultural practices and the building of roads that fragment populations, and to climate change, the historical fur trapping and to pollution; even light pollution appears to significantly reduce local populations, unless counterbalanced by other factors. Agriculture, development, and persecution are thought to be the biggest threats to the species.[1]

A significant benefit to existing conservation programs is that the European hamster breeds readily in captivity; captive breeding programs for the species exist in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Ukraine and elsewhere.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e Banaszek, A.; Bogomolov, P.; Feoktistova, N.; La Haye, M.; Monecke, S.; Reiners, T. E.; Rusin, M.; Surov, A.; Weinhold, U. & Ziomek, J. (2020). "Cricetus cricetus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020: e.T5529A111875852. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-2.RLTS.T5529A111875852.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b Musser, G.G.; Carleton, M.D. (2005). "Superfamily Muroidea". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 1043. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  3. ^ "Eurasian hamster". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  4. ^ "Cricetus Cricetus – Common or Black-Bellied Hamster". AgroAtlas. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  5. ^ "Common Hamster: Cricetus Cricetus" (PDF). Habitats Directive. European Commission. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  6. ^ "hamster". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 6 May 2014. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  7. ^ "Cricetus cricetus". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  8. ^ Dell'Amore, Christine (18 July 2020). "World's rarest wild hamster is now critically endangered". National Geographic.
  9. ^ a b MacDonald, David; Priscilla Barret (1993). Mammals of Britain & Europe. Vol. 1. London: HarperCollins. pp. 236–237. ISBN 0-00-219779-0.
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ "C-383/09 - Commission v France". InfoCuria. 9 June 2011.
  12. ^ Erlanger, S. (2011). "France Is Scolded Over Care of Great Hamster of Alsace". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 June 2011.
  13. ^ Rauber, P. (2014). "Wild Hamsters of Alsace". Sierra Club. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  14. ^ "World's rarest wild hamster is now critically endangered". Animals. 16 July 2020. Archived from the original on 26 February 2021. Retrieved 4 December 2022.

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