Campbell’s & Winter White Hamsters: How to Tell Them Apart

by Drs. Foster and Smith on December 29, 2010

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**Guest post from Felicia M.**

Campbell’s Dwarf Hamster Phodopus campbelli was once considered to be a subspecies of the Winter White Dwarf Hamster Phodopus sungorus, but they are now considered to be two separate species. The two species are separated by the Altai Mountain range in Siberia with the Winter White Dwarf Hamsters north of the mountain range in Kazakhstan and Siberia, and the Campbell’s Dwarf Hamsters south of the mountain range in Mongolia. It is very difficult to tell the difference between a Winter White and a Campbell’s Dwarf Hamster, and until recently the two were often hybridized unknowingly by novice breeders.

winter white campbells

The Campbell’s Dwarf Hamster is more commonly seen for sale in pet shops, but the Winter White is gaining popularity. Both species in the agouti (natural) coloration are brownish grey in color with a black dorsal stripe running from head to tail and a cream white belly. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two species is to look at the sides of the hamster where the body color meets the white belly. In the Campbell’s, there is usually a cream/beige coloration between the transition of the brown/grey body color to the white belly. The Winter White, however, has darker lines contrasting between the brown/grey body color and the white belly. The Winter White usually has a thicker, darker black dorsal stripe.

The Winter White Dwarf Hamster has a more compact, rounder body with a shorter face to conserve body heat in the cold. The Campbell’s Dwarf Hamster has a more lean, sleek body and mouse-like face with larger ears. These characteristics may only be noticeable to the trained eye, even when individuals of the two species are right next to one another.

It is also notable that the Winter White hamster, when exposed to shorter photo-periods, will gradually turn all white except for the black dorsal stripe. Some captive color variations of the Campbell’s are white in color, but the black dorsal stripe is missing. So if you find a Dwarf Hamster in a local pet shop that is totally white, it is likely a Campbell’s. If you find a white Dwarf Hamster with a black dorsal stripe, it is either a Winter White in its winter coat, or the Pearl color variation of the Winter White Dwarf Hamster, which keeps its winter coat all year round.

Hybridizing Dwarf Hamsters is not recommended because Campbell’s Dwarf Hamsters may pass on hereditary problems like diabetes or some rare lethal genes. Hybrids are often infertile and sometimes suffer from defects like tilted heads or missing limbs. Although the two species are typically the same size, the slightly differing body shape can cause a female and her hybrid young to die in labor. If you are thinking of adopting a hamster however, there is no reason that a Hybrid Dwarf Hamster would make a less interesting or lovable pet than a pure-bred hamster.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen March 22, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Thanks for this article. My 12 year old son was given a dwarf hamster for his birthday from his grandparents the other day – surprise! (A surprise for his parents too! I’ve been doing all this research… and I now know more about hamsters than I ever did before.) His grandfather was told at the pet store that it she will turn white in the winter, so that would mean she’s a winter white and not a Campbell’s… but I’ve been looking at all of these hamster pix online and now I’m not so sure about that… and I don’t want to wait until next winter to really find out. Could I e-mail you some pix of our hamster so you could give me your expert opinion? ;)

Felicia March 24, 2011 at 5:59 am

Congratulations on your son’s new hamster :) If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to ask. I’d love to help out. Could we have you get some shots of the hamster’s back and sides, then comment back with links to the pictures? You could upload the photos to Photobucket or Flickr if you’d like. That way other blog readers can see the pictures and outcome, too!

Karen March 24, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Ok… never done the Flickr thing until now… hope this works. Enjoy the pix… these were kind of hard to get – she doesn’t stay still! ;) So… winter white or Campbell’s? (My son named her Snowy… maybe he should have gone with Smoky instead, LOL!)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/60976006@N03/sets/72157626218690061/

Felicia March 26, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Karen,

I hope you don’t mind I sent your photo to a Winter White breeder that I know, and she is certain your hamster is actually a hybrid of Campbell’s and Winter White. So you were right, she is not “really” a Winter White! Good eye! Hybrids make fine pets, but watch out for diabetes, glaucoma, and tumors later in her life.

Christy May 30, 2011 at 4:45 am

Thanks also for the article! I hope you don’t mind if I ask you also to make sure if the two girls I adopted recently are indeed Winter Whites… I’m having a hard time deciding. “Lucy” is the skinnier one on the wheel and crawling up my arm, with a lighter bottom and more grey toned fur. “Ethel” is the chubbier of the two, best seen on my hands, and has a tinge of brown to her. Both are very very sweet and not at all nippy or afraid of my hand.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/61016188@N03/5775546618/in/photostream

Barbara Anderson September 15, 2011 at 7:03 pm

What i have to share was heart breaking for my sons & me. Its also a warning for those of you like me who wouldnt have thought about it. Fumes from household cleaners can b & are deadly for these little guys. Sadly I found this out the HARD way & we lost Squeekie. We now have a new regular size Golden Hamster. She’s still ababy yet my boys named her Squeekie Jr

Jacob March 27, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I saw that one person has a hybrid and it makes me sad that people are careless about breed ing and cross breed learn your genetics before breading its sad because they will not live as long

Morgann December 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I’m getting a winter-white…………

martha May 15, 2013 at 1:00 pm

i have 3 dwarft hampters that i got a while ago n i think that they are winter white russian dwarft hampsters but i am not sure one of my hampters Missy is darker then her sisters she is a dark gray to a black color on the top n sides and completly white with the dark line going down her back and her sisters Muffin and Tiny are mostly white with a black line on there backs n on Muffins sides there is a little bit of a gray color and Tiny is just white on her sides. all the hampster where all white when we got them but Missy is the only one that seems to have gotten darker then her sisters we have had them for about 2 1/2 months now n i just want to know please help me if u can i realy need someones opinion on this

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