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Roborovskis (Phodopus roborovskii) are the smallest of all hamsters commonly kept as pets. Distinguishing characteristics of the Roborovskis are the white spots where the eyebrows would be, and the lack of the dorsal stripe seen in all other dwarf hamsters. They live, on average, to three and a half years of age - the longest of any domestic hamster. Recently, a mutation has arisen producing a "husky", also known as "white-faced", phase. Breeding these lines with agouti Roborovskis produces a diluted appearance of their natural sandy colour.
Roborovski hamsters live in the wild around the Gobi Desert, throughout Mongolia's desert steppe and parts of northern China. They are particularly suited to the steppe, as they are highly efficient in their use of water (as evidenced by how they may pass particularly concentrated urine), so little vegetation is required. Here, they dig and live in burrows. These are usually steep tunnels and they live between 60 and 200 cm below ground.
History of Human ContactEdit
Lt. Vsevolod Roborovski first made note of these hamsters. He discovered them on an expedition in July, 1894, though they were not studied scientifically for the best part of another decade, until Satunin made observations in 1903. London Zoo imported them into the U.K. in the 1960s, but the first studied in Britain were imported in the 1970s from Moscow Zoo. (None of these hamsters, however, bore offspring.)  Continental European countries had more success in breeding Roborovskis, however, and the Roborovskis currently in the U.K. are descendants of a batch imported from the Netherlands in 1990. They were imported in the U.S.A. in 1998, where they remain uncommon, though they are now commonly found in pet shops in several countries. In South Korea, they are almost as common as Winter white Russian dwarf hamsters in pet shops. They are also fairly commonly sold as pets in Israel.
They are very curious, easily startled, and generally timid, as well as very active, they also don't speak or squeak as much. They benefit from an enriched environment they can be active in. Roborovskis can be hand-tamed if acquired young and individually accustomed to handling. This requires some patience and time investment though. Roborovskis hardly ever bite to break skin but they may nibble. A hamster can easily hurt itself escaping or getting into the wrong places before it is caught. It is important to handle them where they cannot get away as they are hard to catch being both fast and very small, and will not hesitate to wriggle free or jump from their owner's hand if panicked, no matter the distance to the ground. They enjoy being together. Two of these hamsters from different litters may get along if introduced properly, although there is always a chance they may not. It is common for this breed to be extremely vicious, especially with each other. They are very territorial and fights can lead to death.
Compatible cage mates will generally play, eat, and sleep together in the same spot. Their antics are constantly entertaining and they make excellent pets for those who want animals that are fun to watch and require less personal handling.
Although generally nocturnal, they are more likely to be active during the day than the more commonly-kept Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus). They do not, however, like direct light or sunlight and will be more confident emerging in the daytime if their home can be kept in relative shade. Like most other small animal, these hamsters cannot see by red light. Therefore, a "fireglow" bulb installed by their cage or tank, though offering little visibility to them, will illuminate their night-time behavior for fascinating observation. Roborovski hamsters have been reported running up to 20 miles a night in about 8 and a half hours.
As they grow to be on average 4.5 cm long - roughly the length of an adult human thumb - Roborovskis can easily squeeze through the bars of a standard hamster cage, and so careful consideration needs to be given to housing. The gaps between bars should be approximately 7 mm in width. First-time owners are advised to inquire of pet shop owners or breeders as to the suitability of cages. The best cage for a roborovski hamster is a small, tight-barred open cage or a large fish aquarium, if you don't want to take chances for them to climb out. Also, cotton should never be put in their cage, there is a high chance they will choke on it.
Roborovski hamsters may reach sexual maturity as early as 5 weeks, but usually do not breed until they are older. Females should not mate till they are closer to 4 months old, though males can breed at 3 months. The gestation period of Roborovski hamsters is usually 20-22 days, but can be up to 30 according to some sources. Litters are usually small, being typically of 4-6 pups, though larger litters have been reported. Pups can be weaned at 21 days; this is also a good age at which to separate male pups from females.
Telling female and male Roborovskis apart is not easy. The problem is getting them into a position to view their genitals, as they are not comfortable being handled and are faster than other hamsters. The most common method is to immobilize them by holding them by the scruff of the neck. This should not cause pain if done correctly, as most will 'play dead' and stay very still when in this position. They should be held firmly, though not tightly, for as short a time as possible and not by the ears. However, this technique is not without risk, as an improper grip could cause permanent nerve damage. A much simpler and easier, but not as reliable, method is to put individual hamsters in clear containers and view them from beneath.
The two sexes have different openings: female openings are very close together and may even look like just one opening, while male openings are further apart. Males usually have a visible scent gland near the navel, above the two openings - this looks like a yellowish stain.
Failure to separate Roborovskis is likely to lead to pregnancy at about five weeks.
- Lissenberg, J. Dwerghamsters. Aanschaf, verzorging, Voeding, Fokken Zuidboek Producties: Lisse, The Netherlands: 2002
- Verhoeff-Verhallen, E. Konijnen en Knaagdieren Encyclopedie Rebo Productions: Lisse, The Netherlands: 1997 Justin napierala
- My Roborovski Hamster - A site that is completly devoted towards helping roborovski hamsters
- A website completely devoted to Roborovski Hamsters
- R&R Hamsters - Complete site dedicated to the Roborovski Hamster
- Pet Web Site (formerly The Complete Hamster Site) section on Roborovski Hamsters
- A rare example of a Roborovski being handled with ease. This is a white-faced Roborovski.
- Furry Critters
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