The European Hamster is sometimes referred to as the Common Hamster or Black Bellied Hamster and was first documented in 1679 and named in 1758. European Hamsters are the largest of the hamster species with males being 27-32 cm in length and females being 22-25 cm in length ie a similar size to a guinea pig.
The European Hamster originates from the lowlands of central and eastern Europe and Russia, living on steppes, agricultural land or by riverbanks.
European Hamsters are light brown in colour with a black belly, white sides and paws, although Albino and Black mutations exist. They have very large cheek pouches which can hold up to 20-30 grams of food.
The European Hamster is a solitary animal and is aggressive towards others, avoiding other hamsters outside mating periods. They are nocturnal, being active in the evening and at night. They live in separate burrows consisting of tunnels, food chamber and storage chambers, nesting chamber and hibernating chamber. The burrow may have several entrances. European Hamsters can burrow as deep as 2 meters in Winter months when they hibernate from October to March. Prior to hibernation the burrow is sealed and if the temperature falls below 10 degrees celsius the European Hamster falls into a deep sleep. During hibernation the body temperature drops and the hamster will awaken every 4-7 days for periods of 8 hours when it will eat and drink.
The European Hamster's diet consists of grains, lentils, roots, plants, insect larvae, baby ground nesting birds, small mice, reptiles and amphibians.
The breeding season of the European Hamster lasts from April to August. Female European Hamsters reach sexual maturity at approximately 2-3 months of age and males at 2 months of age. Females will only tolerate the company of a male when in season and this usually occurs every 4-6 days. The male will enter the females territory and lay his scent near her burrow and if the female is willing mating will take place. Once mating has taken place they each return to their own separate burrows. Females usually have 2-5 litters each year and the gestation period is 18-21 days. The litter size varies from 4 to 12 and the young are weaned at 3 weeks of age, achieving full growth at 8 weeks of age.
The European Hamster is a good swimmer and inflates its cheek pouches with air to help stay afloat whilst swimming.
The European Hamster is fierce but when kept in captivity the aggression is much reduced and some bred in captivity are reported to be docile.
The average lifespan of the European Hamster is 8 years and although kept in laboratories is not often kept as a pet.