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Judging Dwarf Hamsters (Pt2)

Following on from the article in January's issue, it was thought a good idea to continue this line of thought and to expand on the new and upcoming colours of dwarf hamsters. With this in mind I thought I would expand on this subject by splitting it into subsections firstly how to judge them, secondly how to breed them and thirdly the impact they are having on the hamsters themselves.

Again I must reiterate that these are my own thoughts and opinions, not necessarily the right ones but until someone comes up with a better argument, I shall stick to my own decisions.

So:

The Continuation of Judging Dwarf Hamsters

Over the past few years we have seen a large increase in the colours of dwarf hamsters mostly confined to the Campbell hamster. So far these colours can be pigeon holed into distinctive categories, the main ones apart from the normal colour are:-

So lets take each colour at a time. With the exception of Albino and Argente all the other colours and patterns come under Non-Standard, meaning as yet there hasn't been a standard devised for that colour, mostly because these colours are so new we need several generations to be able to see the true colour.

Albino

This is a standard colour and is self-explanatory, the fur is white to the roots with no markings visible (although as babies you can still see the dorsal stripe), the ears are flesh coloured and the eyes are pink. Albinos are recessive in their genetic makeup meaning that you need two hamsters carrying the Albino gene to produce Albinos. When judging an Albino what do you look for, well this should be the easiest colour to judge you either have a white hamster or you don't. Check all over the animal especially underneath to see if it is stained at all, the cleaner the hamster the higher its colour points, and don't worry if you give it a relatively high colour mark, if the hamster is of exceptional quality it will win regardless, but if the type, fur etc are incorrect your points should reflect this and although it may gain good colour points it will loose on other aspects so theoretically the points should even themselves out.

Argente

This is the other standard colour with the top coat being light cinnamon colour and the base colour being a smoky grey, the belly fur on an Argente is creamy white with smoky grey, the ears are pale flesh coloured and the eyes are red. As with the Albinos the Argentes are recessive in their genetic makeup. When judging Argentes people seem to fall between two stools, some like them dark others like them pale, which is correct? Read the standard, the standard asks for a light cinnamon colour, the cinnamon being taken from the Syrian cinnamon standard, so you are looking for a paler version of a cinnamon Syrian, most importantly the colour should be even no obvious light and dark patches, unfortunately Argentes seem to have lost their popularity in favour of other colours, and the fact that a lot of Argentes had bad temperaments when they first came out, although this has got a lot better over the years.

Mottled

This variety comes in many different coat patterns from a single band across the shoulders to spots to mostly white with the odd brown spot, this pattern can be found with any of the above colours and of course the normal colour. Mottleds are dominant in their genetic makeup meaning you only need 1 to produce hopefully more Mottleds. But the eye colour on a normal mottled is not the black it may seem at first but is instead a deep claret red bringing into play the white bellied gene similar to that of the white bellied Syrian hamster. Mating two Mottleds together can produce eye less white babies, but I have found through experience that these babies do not often tend to survive longer than their 3rd week.

Platinum

This variety also comes in all of the available colours and again is dominant in its genetic makeup. The Platinum's colour is of white hairs running throughout the coloured body from the head down to the tail, side arches are still present to a certain degree but often you loose the dorsal stripe. Mating Platinum to Platinum can result in the Black Eyed White variety, which essentially is a washed out version of the normal platinum. The Black Eyed White is mostly a white hamster with black eyes, flesh coloured ears, but often the ears have one or more black spots on them, occasionally coloured hairs will appear on the head.

Black

Personally I feel that there are two distinct variety's to the Black, firstly you have the true black which has black fur to the roots, black eyes and dark grey ears, like the black Syrian hamster white hairs are often seen on the belly, chest and feet. As a black gets older they often tend to go grey giving them an appearance of a Black Platinum. Secondly there is the umberous normal, this hamster tends to have a swarthy face, the side arches and dorsal stripe are still seen but tend to look rather sooty in colour. The Black is recessive in genetic makeup.

Opal

Although very rarely seen so far the Opal is around, it has the appearance similar to a Sapphire Winter White in that it has a blue/grey top coat and grey base coat, the dorsal stripe is also blue/grey and the belly fur is off white, the eyes are black and the ears are grey. Opals are recessive in their genetic makeup.

Mating these colours together could produce a wider variety of colours many of which haven't yet been bred although there are a few Doves cropping up on the show table.

Judging the remaining colours in the non-standard class means you don't have to worry about awarding colour marks, so judging is relatively easy, you only have to give points for type, fur, condition, size and eyes and ears. From personally experience I have found that the fur quality of a Platinum and Black Eyed White is often far better than a mottleds with the fur being much softer whereas the Mottled fur tends to be harsher.

Breeding These Colours

I personally run colony's of dwarfs together normally of the same colour or carrying colours for example, I brought this year from another breeder two black platinum males these I paired up to two normal females carrying black all were of similar size and similar type, the babies that have resulted in their three litters to date consist of 3 black platinums and 7 normals. So why do I have less blacks to normals.

So for a very simple genetics lesson to explain colour inheritance I have written a simple diagram:

F1 (First Generation)

Normal
Black
AA
aa

(A = Dominant a = Recessive)

F2 (Second Generation)

Normal Carrier
Normal Carrier
Aa
Aa

So in the second generation all the babies will be carriers. If you mate carrier to carrier you will get:

F3 (Third Generation)

Normal
Normal Carrier
Black
AA
Aa
aa

The normal ratio for this is 3:1 meaning three normals to one black. However mating the normal carrier to the black platinum has reintroduced the black gene, unfortunately though you don't know which normal carries the black gene and which one doesn't so assuming as I have in the above litters one female that does carry black you will get:

Normal Carrier
Black Platinum
Aa
Aa

So back to breeding these colours. I keep all my colours separate, this way I as a whole get better colours in my hamsters, but genes can be masked especially with the albino gene as albino can mask all colour genes, essentially you have a coloured animal under a white coat, but as they don't come out saying what they are you don't know this until you have mated down the line.

So what effect has these colours on the normal colours.

Over the years I have seen a decline in the colours of all three of the main dwarf species, but why? There is a very simple answer to this question. Dwarfs are viewed differently from Syrians, you ask one of the main Syrian hamster breeders in our clubs what is behind their colours for example Golden, and the answer 9 times out of 10 is Golden, the same goes with most of the other colours, if another colour is added it is normally a compatible one ie adding Yellow. But when we breed Dwarfs this all goes out of the window, we will mate normal to albino to argente to blacks to platinums etc and then we wonder why the colours are wrong. The trouble is that new judges don't know any better and think that pale washed out normals is correct.

I am finding now that the colours seem to be splitting into several distinct groups and these are caused by adding specific colours to the genes.

Below I have listed what I find to be common colour faults in the Campbell and what I think causes this problem.

Pale washed out top colour, normal slate grey under colour, white arches and belly fur - normally caused by introducing albinos. The white of the albino often dilutes the normal colour.

Orange markings behind ears, enhanced ocra on the arches and a more orange hue to the normal brown top colour - normally caused by introducing argentes and sometimes blacks. The argente's cinnamon colour can enhance the normals colour, but too much.

Normal top colour, slate grey base colour, belly fur has large white patches on it - normally caused by introducing mottleds.

Masked platinum, normal top colour but base colour has white hairs running though it.

So what can we do. Unfortunately I feel that it may be too late to retrieve the normal colours of 5-10 years ago and that they may be lost to the sands of time, even by breeding in select colony's you can not guarantee exactly what is behind the hamsters, you will need to go back many generations to check the colour inheritance. Or we can try and separate these colours back into their groups and breed several generations of relatives to see what comes out, only by breeding in a selective manner have we any hope of getting rid of the washed out colours and reintroducing the proper normal colours.

Melissa Chamberlain

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