The original colouring of the hamster is the familiar golden-brown. This is the wild hamster and, for some 15 years after domestication, was the only known colour. However, nature produces variations in the form of “sports” or mutants, to use the correct word. No-one knows when, where or what form these may take, except that they do occur at an extremely low frequency. This is how the many colour and fur varieties of not only the hamster but all domestic pets have originated.
It is even more fascinating that when several mutants are known, these may be combined with each other to produce new series of colours, many of them novel and some exceedingly beautiful. Hamster breeders have selectively bred and preserved these colours so that pet lovers who appreciate beauty can enjoy them too. No attempt can be made to describe all of the possible colours. There are many which differ slightly from one another and these are not recognised by hamster clubs.
Hamster Colour Varieties
One of the earliest colours to appear was the Black-eyed Cream and the variety still ranks among the most popular. The eyes and ears are dark and the body fur is rich peachy yellow. The colour also occurs with red eyes—the Red-eye Cream. The fur colour is slightly richer while the ears are brownish rather than black. The effect is a cleaner, fresher looking animal.
The brightest colour (so far at least !) is the Cinnamon hamster. The fur is a rich Cinnamon-orange, with claret-red eyes and light brown ears. It is a gem among varieties and, justifiably, is one of the most sought after colours. There is only one other variety which surpasses it for magnificence of colour. This is not another colour but the combination of Cinnamon with Satin.
Two forms of albino hamster are known. The first is the Dark-eared Albino. As the name implies, the ears are darkly pigmented. The young animal of a few weeks of age has pink ears, the ears darkening from about four to five weeks. The eyes are pink and the fur is snowy white. The other form is the Pale-eared Albino. In this, the ears are flesh coloured. The pink ears and eyes, together with the white coat, makes the variety comparable to the albino of the mouse and other rodents.
The name of the Black-eyed White accurately describes the variety. In the ideal animal, the eyes are dark and the coat is pure white. However, many have a yellow tinge in the coat, particularly on the forehead. This is a fault. The ears should be pink although many have dark spots which are undesirable. The variety is not common but still has its adherents.
The Yellow might be mistaken at first sight for a Black-eyed Cream. Both the eyes and ears are dark but the coat is deeper in colour than the Cream and is covered in dark guard hairs. These guard hairs are lacking in the Cream and make identification of the Yellow easy.
The Honey is a Yellow but with red eyes and lighter coloured ears. The coat colour is a more pastel shade of yellow without dark guard hairs. Light coloured guard hairs are present but have to be carefully searched for to be noticed. The colour is deeper than the Red-eyed Cream to which it has some resemblance.
The Tortoiseshell is a curious hamster. The coat colour is a mixture of yellow and golden patches, usually intermingled but sometimes nicely separated. The Tortoiseshell Band is a superior hamster to the plain Tortoiseshell. This is because the Band pattern encourages the separation of the yellow and golden colours. That is to say, the yellow and golden patches are larger when White Band is present than when it is absent. The practical result is that the Tortoiseshell Band is the only one generally bred. It is posible to obtain Cinnamon Tortoiseshells and Grey Tortoiseshells but the contrast between the coloured patches is less than that for the golden. By the way, all Tortoiseshell hamsters are females for the same biological reason that all Tortoiseshell cats are female.
The Ruby-eyed Fawn and Ruby-eyed Cream are two rare varieties. Both have eyes with a ruby tint and the ears are greyish rather than black. The coat of the Cream is a soft cream. These varieties were two of the earlier colours and their present rarity is due to two factors. The males are often sterile or fertile for only a few weeks after reaching breeding age while the females are often poor mothers. You can imagine that breeding either of the Ruby-eyed varieties is not an easy task.
The Greys are fairly recent newcomers on the hamster scene and are commanding attention. There are two : the Light Grey, with a coat colour of light smokey-grey, shot through with beige, and the Chin chilla, with a dark slate-blue coat and a band of white to the hairs when the fur is turned back (”the pearling in fanciers terms).
The Lilac or Dove is a pretty variety. The colour is a medium dove-grey, tending to brownish, and several shades are possible. The eyes may be either dark or reddish.
A most attractive new colour is the Smoke Pearl. The ears are a dark slate while the body colour is a light pearl grey, evenly sprinkled with slate-grey guard hairs. The eyes are dark.
White Marked Varieties
The White Band has a belt of white encircling the midriff. Ideally, the band should be of even width all round the body and not broken by a spinal stripe of coloured fur, as so many are. The coloured parts of the coat may be Golden, Cream, Cinnamon, Grey, to name the most usual. Therefore, to describe a White Band fully, the colour must also be given, such as Cream White Band for a Cream hamster with a band of white. There is a tendency nowadays to omit the word white, since this can be taken for granted. A great favourite among hamster lovers is the Cinnamon Band, the bright orange-cinnamon colour making a powerful contrast to the white of the band.
The Piebald was the first colour sport to occur, about 1945 in the U.S.A. The variety has white and coloured patches of fur intermingled all over the body. The white areas are the novelty and these can vary from a coloured hamster with white marks on the head, stomach and here-and-there on the body to an almost white animal with coloured spots on the head and body. As with the Band, the coloured parts may be of any colour. Golden, Cream, Cinnamon or Grey are the varieties most commonly seen. The Piebald, however, although of lively disposition, is inclined to to be undersized. Moreover, the females do not make good mothers and are more likely to eat or desert their young if not given more privacy than a non-Piebald female.
Of more recent years, another spotted form has come to the front. This is the Dominant Spot, a variety which is similar in appearance to the Piebald but quite distinct from it. There is the same variation in the amount of white on the body. Here, too, the coloured areas may be either Golden, Cream, Cinnamon, etc., and it is necessary to speak of a Cream Dominant Spot, for instance, for a full description. Unlike the Piebald, Dominant Spot hamsters are not undersized and the females are excellent mothers. White Band, Piebald and Dominant Spot are all “patterned” hamsters, so-styled because they are first of all a colour variety, with a pattern of white superimposed.
The Satin is an interesting variety. It is the first of the coat variations to appear in the hamster. The colour is unchanged but the coat has a glossy appearance—hence the name. Furthermore, the colour is noticeably richer in the Satin. This can produce some remarkably beautiful animals. For example, the Albino Satin and Cinnamon Satin almost sparkle as the coat ripples from the hamsters movements. The Cinnamon Satin is easily the brightest jewel in the hamster filament.
The Rex is the most recent addition to the list of varieties. The coat is unique, being dense and slightly woolly to the touch. Young Rexes have a wavy appearance but this is lost in the adult. The guard hairs are curly and this is the reason for the rex coat. The whiskers are curved, very different from the straight whiskers of the normal. Rex may occur in all colours hence there are Cream Rex, Cinnamon Rex, etc., just as for the Satin.