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Roborovskii's Hamster, (Phodopus roborovskii)

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Male Roborovskii's hamster

These are the newest addition to the family of hamsters kept as pets.  They originate from Mongolia and are the smallest of the hamster family, being only about 5cm long when fully grown.  They are sandy brown on their head and back and pure white underneath, but have endearing white "eyebrows" and whiskers, as seen in the photograph above. Like their relatives, the Russian hamsters, these animals are social, and live in groups, (unlike Syrian hamsters). They are by far the fastest moving of the hamster family, and indeed are rarely still, except when they are asleep.

Roborovskii's hamsters are gentle and naturally docile but extremely fast!  They rarely if ever bite but do wriggle -  and if they escape they are difficult to catch, although repeated, gentle handling will calm them down somewhat. Since they are so wriggly, they are not generally recommended for anyone wanting a pet to "cuddle". When they are being handled, it is best to do so over a "playbox" or normal cardboard box from the supermarket. (If a Roborovski's hamster once gets loose on the floor it will be a major challenge to retrieve!) On the plus side, however, their temperament is reliably good; bites or even nips are so rare as to be effectively unheard of. As a pet to watch, busily going about its day to day existence, they are without equal.

Their care is basically similar to that of other hamsters, particularly the other "Dwarfs". As with Russians and Chinese, mouse barred cages are required to safely confine them or, failing that, a tank, (either plastic or glass). They seem to be more fond of tubes, plastic houses and hideaways than other species of hamster, and will enjoy nesting in any cardboard rolls or small boxes that are given to them. In terms of feeding, normal hamster food suits them well, although as a treat they especially relish a small amount of bird seed, particularly millet or foreign finch seed. (They will also take the spray millet sold for budgerigars). Concerning fruit and vegetables, any of the "greens" that other species of hamster will eat are suitable for Roborovski's.

Lifespan for Roborovski's hamsters is usually about two years, comparable to Syrians and other "Dwarfs". They do not seem to suffer from any genetic predisposition to disease that I am aware of, apart from the fact that some bloodlines do seem to throw out occasional individuals which "spin", as if they have had a stroke or middle ear infection. These individuals are very uncommon and seem to be completely unconcerned about their affliction, feeding well and coping perfectly with the requirements of a normal life.

Breeding this species is not difficult but they do not seem as fertile as, for example, Campbell's. In addition, litter size is usually fairly small, three to five being normal, although I have known up to eight. These facts may make "Robos" less attractive to commercial breeders and hence explain why few Pet Shops sell them. For the Exhibitor Breeder, however, this is not necessarily a problem, since they do not have a living to make from their hamsters. Breeding is simply a matter of leaving a male and female together and waiting. Both sexes make excellent parents and the pair may produce a litter every three weeks or so, although this is unusual and every four to five weeks is more common. The babies are fully furred at two weeks of age and resemble miniature adults by about three weeks.

It was believed that Roborovski's hamsters didn't breed until their second spring, and many breeders report that theirs only breed at certain times of the year - usually Spring and early Summer. This would suggest that they are responding to increased day length. They also seem to suffer from "inbreeding depression" when colonies are left to breed for several generations. "Outcross" pairs seem more fertile and seem to start breeding at an earlier age, (on average), than those from several generations of inbreeding. For this reason it is important that dedicated breeder exhibitors maintain open bloodlines and exchange animals frequently to minimise inbreeding depression and ensure the future of this delightful animal.

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