Want to learn more about hamster colors?
Below we’ll talk about the many different coat colors possible for hamsters, which species show which colors, and how genetics and external influences can impact hamster colors.
While hamster colors may seem like a surface issue, there is in fact a large body of science behind how genetics influences hamster coat colors.
Hamster coat color genetics are of course akin to genetic science in the broadest sense, as fur and eye color are determined by genes inherited from each parent.
This basis for genetics applies much further beyond hamsters, but for our purposes we’ll hone in on hamster colors.
There are a number of factors at play for us to examine, as veterinarian Sharon Vanderlip explains in her book about dwarf hamsters: “Color is often determined by the interaction of several genes.”
Some of the hamster colors we’ll discuss are in part a result of this process.
We’ll also see how the wide variety of colors seen today are also often influenced by the surge in hamster breeding, as well as environmental adaptation from group to group.
Syrian hamster colors
Let’s start off with the most common species of hamster, the Syrian hamster.
These hamsters were first found in (surprise) Syria in the 1930s, and then soon after made their way further west.
While these hamsters have been bred extensively since that time, it is interesting to note that all golden hamsters in captivity descended from just 13 original hamsters captured in Syria.
Yes, you just read “golden hamster” correctly! Let’s look at this a bit more in-depth.
Golden Syrian hamster
The title of Syrian hamster is often used interchangeably with the golden hamster, or even the Syrian golden hamster.
The golden hamster is the species you’ll most often find in pet stores.
While this is this hamster’s most commonly seen coloring, the Syrian hamster has a much broader color coat diversity than you might expect.
True to hamster colors in general, the number of possibilities can be dizzying rainbow of options.
Just look at this description from Dean Marvin Warren in his book Small Animal Care and Management: “Golden hamsters can be found in single or solid colors, two-colored or banded patterns…In addition to the regular black eye color, red or ruby eyes are also common. Hamsters can occasionally be found with one ruby eye and one red eye.”
Let’s take a look at several possible unique coat colors. The ones mentioned below, along with other non-standard colors for this group, are a result of genetic mutation.
Brown Syrian hamster
Syrian hamsters are often seen in colors diverging from the usual gold, as a result of accumulated years of breeding.
One popular color is brown Syrian hamsters. Brown ranges over a broad color spectrum; a common favorite, according to author Holly Sullivant, is dark brown.
There have been reported color coat “mutations” resulting in a Syrian orange hamster.
In 1964, scientists drew a comparison between a color mutation characterized as brown, cinnamon or amber to a newly discovered “rust” coat color (as they called it).
While the “amber” mutation results in a vivid, brightly-colored orange hamster, the “rust” variation is orange, but falls, yet again, on a color spectrum between amber and the more common golden Syrian hamster.
Interestingly, both of these orange hamster types can be easily distinguished by very different coloring elsewhere, such as their eye color, eyelids, and ear coloring.
This is yet another example of the complexities and boundless varieties that come with hamster colors!
Chinese hamster colors
With both wild as well as domesticated Chinese hamsters, there are often combinations of colors, leading to an appearance that combines coloring for a brown hamster and grey hamster.
For both wild and pet Chinese hamsters, the most common coloring is gray-brown with a lighter-colored belly and a dark brown or black dorsal stripe. These hamsters often have black eyes.
A less common coloring for the Chinese hamster is a mostly white body, a result of genes that code just for white markings on a hamster coat.
This is an important point regarding the complexity of hamster colors. The options out there are not just variations of all of a hamster’s fur, but in fact are often a collection of distinct markings on the main body, around the eyes, ears, and more.
Dwarf hamster colors
This hamster goes by many names: the Siberian hamster, the Russian Dwarf hamster, or the Djungarian hamster.
A number of color “mutants” occur with this group of hamsters. There is much ground to cover here, so get ready!
To begin, the common Siberian hamster often has a grey coat with a white stomach.
Starting in the 1990s, different variations were beginning to become noticeable in dwarf hamsters because breeding was finally creating sufficient numbers to see emerging colors.
There are a couple of mutations that result in albino coloring.
The albino mutation refers to a recessive coloring in which eyes are pink and the coat has no pigment, resulting in a white Syrian hamster or white dwarf hamster appearance.
These hamsters often look like a white hamster with red eyes.
However, British researcher R. Robinson in the Journal of Heredity in 1996 also describes a related “pink-eyed dilution mutant” that results in “red eyes and a sandy yellow coat.”
While albino hamsters and hamsters with red eyes may sound out of the ordinary, Robinson contextualizes both by saying that “albino and pink-eyed dilution genes are common mutant forms in mammalian coat color genetics.”
This is a good reminder that the process and trends behind hamster colors and genes do not exist in a vacuum apart from other animals—far from it.
Vanderlip cites instances of a blue hamster type within the dwarf hamster family.
She discusses a “blue-gray” Djungarian coat as well as what she calls a “sapphire” Siberian hamster.
For the latter, she gives the rich description of “a blue-gray or purple-gray color with a dark gray dorsal stripe, an ivory belly, and black eyes.“
This gem-like coloring description includes specifications for “pearl” and “pearl sapphire” Siberian hamster colors.
Russian winter white hamster colors
The coats of the Russian winter white hamster and the Campbell dwarf hamster are related, although one changes color and the other does not!
This is an interesting environmental adaptation in which the white winter coat of Russian white hamsters changes to brown during the summer.
Experts believe this change in winter white hamster colors is triggered by the length of days. A shortening of daylight hours causes the coat to revert to winter white.
Form meets function here!
Campbell dwarf hamster colors
The Campbell dwarf hamster is similar to the Russian winter white hamster, though it does not change color, and can’t handle the extreme low temperatures that the winter white can.
Here is another fascinating example of how environment and climate impact hamster colors!
With this description, it makes sense that the Campbell dwarf hamster colors of coat would not mirror the seasonal change seen in winter white hamster colors.
Roborovski hamster colors
The Roborovski hamster is also called the “desert hamster.” Roborovski hamster colors are usually light-gray, sandy, or gold.
One point of interest here is that these hamsters tend to have white spots below their ears, an evolutionary trait that may help ward off predators.
The Roborovski typically has a white colored belly. A variation of the Roborovski is a white-faced variety.
Hamster colors – A summary
As we’ve seen, hamster colors go far beyond a single coat color.
You can find so many color combinations! Want a single color hamster? A brown and white hamster?
A black and white Syrian hamster? A calico hamster? You can find them!
You can also find black dwarf hamsters, orange and white hamsters, and many other variations.
There is plenty of mixing and matching of colors, both on the major back and stomach areas as well in more specific areas around the eyes and ears, not to mention stripes and spots. The combinations and possibilities are many!
While the hamster is largely seen as, quite simply, a cute and cuddly pet, the genetics and overall range of hamster colors is complicated (and fascinating!)
Though we’ve covered a number of common hamster species and hamster colors, there are certainly more out there to be studied and appreciated.
Hopefully this article has served as a window into genetic and evolutionary hamster colors!
References and Further Reading
- Mancinelli, E. & Bament, W. (2014). Guide to Care and Treatment of Rats, Mice, Gerbils and Hamsters. Vet Times.
- Mitchell, M. A. & Tully, T. N. (2009). Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. Saunders: St. Louis, MO.
- Whitney, R. et al. (1964). Rust, a new mutation in Syrian hamsters. The American Naturalist, 98(899).
- Robinson, R. (1996). Albino and pink-eyed dilution mutants in the Russian Dwarf Hamster Phodopus campbelli. Journal of Heredity, 87(2).
- Scott, W. (2013). Caring for Dwarf Hamsters Guide: All You Need to Know About Keeping Dwarf Hamster As a Pet. Lulu Press.
- Sullivant, H. (2009). Hamsters (Our Best Friends). Eldorado Ink: Pittsburgh, PA.Vanderlip, S. L. (2009). Dwarf Hamsters: Everything about Purchase, Care, Nutrition, and Behavior. Barron’s Educational Series.
- Warren, D. M. (2016). Small Animal Care and Management(4th ed). Cenage Learning: Boston, MA.