Welcome to Dashing Hamsters. I created this website back in 2005, initially to have a place to share my love of hamsters. Throughout the years I have come across a lot of information that just often doesn't match up. Care standards and information are outdated, and these little creatures are misunderstood by many. So I decided to make this website as more than just a hamster lover's website, but a hamster website for modern owners who are looking for up to date advice on how to care for and understand their beloved hamsters. On DH you can learn about hamsters, see some cute pictures and read through a hamster filled blog.

History of Hamsters

     A great way to help you understand your hamster better is to understand where they came from and how they got to the pet market. Hamsters did not start off with humans taking care of them; they once lived in the wild searching for their own food, making their own nest, raising their own litters and keeping themselves alive. They didn't have wheels or seedmixes or vets. But how did they get here? This isn't just some history lesson it's the history of hamsters, which is actually quite interesting.

History of the Syrian Hamster

(Mesocricetus auratus)

     Syrian hamsters were first documented in 1797 in the second edition of The History of Aleppo. Mount Aleppo is a region in Syria -hence the name Syrian hamster. The first edition was written by Alexander Russel but the second addition was written by his brother, Patrick Russel. Alexander didn't mention any hamsters in the first edition of The History of Aleppo and the hamster mentioned in the second edition may have been mistaken for the European hamster. Here's a quote from the book: "...I once found upon dissecting one of them [Syrian hamsters], the pouch on each side stuffed with young French beans, arranged lengthways so exactly and close to each other, that it appeared strange by what mechanism it had been effected; for the membrane which forms the pouch, though muscular, is thin and most experts could not have packed the beans in more regular order. When they were laid loosely on the table, they formed a heap three times the bulk of the animals body..." (Russel).

     At first these hamsters were known as the Golden hamster and are still called so today by some people. Though today 'Golden' refers to the natural or wild coloured coat colour not the species. Golden hamsters were classified in 1839 by George Waterhouse as Cricetus auratus. When he returned from Syria, he brought a skull and a skin of the Syrian hamster to the Zoological Society of London and so introduced a new species of hamster. Despite the news of a new species of hamster, not much happened with Syrians until 1880.

     In 1880 a group of Syrian hamsters were brought to Edinburgh, Scotland by James Henry Skeene, unfortunately for an unknown reason the colony died out 30 years later.

     In the late 1800's Nehring was the second (after Waterhouse) to specifically study the Syrian hamster. He used a preserved female at the Beirut Museum. In 1898 he established the genus Mesocricetus for certain hamsters from Southeastern Europe and Asia Minor. In 1902 he officially renamed the Syrian hamster, Mesocricetus auratus. For years the Syrian was still referred to as Cricetus auratus as Waterhouse named them. In 1940, Ellerman pointed out that Mesocricetus was a "well characterized and distinct genus". Mesocricetus differ from Cricetus in that they are smaller, have shorter tails, and have larger litter sizes.

     Then in 1930 Professor Aharoni got permission and a group of workmen to dig in a wheat field in Aleppo to look for the Syrian hamster, which destroyed a great deal of the crops. Finally about 8 feet into the ground a mother and her litter of eleven were found in their burrows. The family was placed into a box while everyone congratulated themselves until they saw the mother of this litter begin to cull her young (which is very normal for a mother hamster under stress). They were horrified and so put the mother into a bottle of cyanide. This left Aharoni and his wife to care for the now only ten young hamsters. Due to problems involving a wooden cage (hamsters like to chew) and housing Syrians together (solitary animal) only three of these hamsters made it to sexual maturity. Luckily there were both sexes and they successfully bred in captivity. In 1931 they were sent out to several Laboratories to keep the numbers of these domestic hamsters up. Syrians didn't make it the North American Laboratories until 1938.

     Now why did Aharoni even go looking for the Syrian hamster in the first place? Well that would be because of a colleague of his. Aharoni's colleague was Saul Adler. Adler was a parasitologist and was doing a study on a parasite that causes leishmaniasis (Google it!) and was using Chinese hamsters for his study. However it was difficult to breed Chinese hamsters back then and new stock was hard to come by with all the problems going on in China at the time. So Adler wanted a hamster that was closer to home and so called in a favour from a colleague that was often in Syria for his own studies- Aharoni. Aharoni also collected Cricetulus phaeus for Adler's study. In 1931 Adler finished his study and he's the one who sent out hamsters to other Laboratories.

     It wasn't until 1937 that hamsters were moving from the labs to the pet market in the UK. In 1945 so many people were keeping hamsters that many clubs were formed and in 1949 the National Hamster Council was inaugurated. In North America, Syrians were becoming popular pets in the 1940s and 1950s. Then in the 1980s mixed clubs (for rats, mice, hamsters, etc.) were formed. Clubs solely for hamsters didn't show up until the 1990s.

     It is much believed that the hamsters that Aharoni and his wife raised are where all of today's Syrians originate from. However in 1971 another litter of 12 hamsters was found in Aleppo by Syrian Farmers and imported to the U.S - in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where observations were made on their natural history and comparisons with domesticated stock were made. Descendants were still reported to remain at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Later it is reported that in 1978 (again in Aleppo) two females were caught and in 1982 another two hamsters were caught (though only one female survived). It is likely that all of these hamsters are also the ancestors of many of today's Syrians. 

History of the Chinese Hamster

(Cricetulus griseus)

     Chinese hamsters are found in Mongolia and Northern China on steppes, desert fringes and rocky terrain. They live in shallow burrows that can get to about three feet deep. They were first cataloged as early as 1773. Over the years they were given many names such as Cricetulus barabenis by Pallas in 1773, Barabenis griseus by Milne-Edwards in 1867, and several others. It turns out that there were three species of the 'rat-like' hamster that were being mixed up. Today's domestic Chinese hamster is the Cricetulus griseus.

     The domestic Chinese hamster originates from Beijing (Peking), China where it was captured from the street and sold as a pet. The first documented report of Chinese hamsters used as laboratory animals appeared in 1919 when Hsieh used them to identify pneummococcal types in an attempt to treat his patients at the Peking Union Medical College. In 1920 breeding stocks were extended to other parts of China and later to other parts of the World. Attempts to establish colonies for lab use had pretty much failed as they were difficult to breed outside of China. Colonies needed to be continuously replenished with wild hamsters.

     The first reported successful breeding colony outside of China was reported by Schwertker in 1957 and Yerganian in 1958 at Harvard Medical School in Boston. The original breeding stock of 10 females and 10 males for this colony were shipped from China on the eve of the founding of the People's Republic of China in December 1948. Although the colony at Harvard has since been extinct, the discovery of hereditary diabetes in the colony led to establishment of 2 diabetic Chinese hamster colonies in North America in the 1960's. One at the Upjohn Company, Kalamazoo, Michigan and another at the C.H. Best Institute, Toronto, Ontario. In the following two decades large amounts of research about diabetes in hamsters were accumulated.

In the 1970s when the Dwarf hamsters were becoming popular, interest in the Chinese hamster sparked too. With more people keeping Chinese hamsters, more people were successfully breeding them in captivity.

History of the Winter White Hamster

(Phodopus sungorus sungorus)

     Winter White (WW) dwarfs are found in Siberia, Eastern Kazakhstan in grassy steppes and had to deal with low temperatures and even snow. WWs were first cataloged in 1773 by Pallas and were found in Gratschefskoi in western Siberia. They were originally classified as part of the mouse family. You can find preserved specimens from as far back as 1947 at the Siberian Zoological Museum.

     Today's domesticated WWs descend from several hamsters caught in 1968 in western Siberia. They were brought to the Max Planck Institute in Germany where they successfully bred in captivity. In the late 1970s the WWs made it to the pet market in the UK. They made it to the pet market in North America in the 1980s but weren't very popular until the 1990s. 

History of the Russian Campbell Dwarf Hamster

(Phodopus sungorus campbelli)

     Russian Campbell (RC) Dwarfs originate from Russia, China and central Asia. They lived in arid areas on dry open steppes and sand dunes. They were discovered in 1902 by W.C. Campbell. Their existence was likely known prior to this but they were often mixed up with Winter White dwarfs as the two species are very similar. They were considered the same species until 1905 as a matter of fact. Preserved hamsters and skins may be found today in the Siberian Zoological Museum in Russia, some of them dating back to 1946. They didn't make it to the UK until 1963 with more stock brought from the wild in 1969. In the 1970s RC dwarfs were found in UK pet shops. They came to North America in the 1980s and are the most popular species to be kept as pets after Syrian hamsters.

History of the Roborovski Dwarf Hamster

(Phodopus roborovskii)

     Roborovski (Robo) dwarfs originate in sandy and dry areas in the deserts of western and eastern Mongolia, China and Russia. They were discovered in 1894 by Lieutenant Roborovsky. They weren't described until 1903 by Dr. Satunin and were found in Nanshaw, China. In the 1960s a colony was caught and brought to the London Zoo, though it failed. The present UK stock was imported from Holland in 1990, and around the same time Robo dwarfs were brought to North America. They are the newest species to be brought to the pet market and so are still difficult to obtain in some areas.