Hamster, a burrowing rodent native to western Asia. It looks somewhat like a short, plump rat with thick, soft fur. It has rather large ears and very short legs. Unlike the rat, the hamster has a stubby tail and roomy cheek pouches in which it carries food. Hamsters usually hibernate when the temperature drops below 45° F. (7° C.) and food is scarce. They raise several litters a year, each averaging about seven young. Hamsters mature in about 60 days.

The hamsterThe hamster has roomy cheek pouches in which it carries food.

The black hamster, about nine inches (23 cm) long, is reddish gray above and black beneath. The feet, tail, nose, and edges of the ears are covered with white hair. It is a pest on eastern European farms, for it carries away large amounts of grain and vegetables to its underground storerooms.

The Syrian golden hamster is about six inches (15 cm) long. It is reddish gold above, white beneath, with black markings on its head and cheeks. Golden hamsters were brought to the United States about 1938. They are often kept as pets by children, and are sometimes used in medical research.

Pet hamsters are clean, solitary animals that enjoy exploring and hiding. They are usually kept in cages, available from pet shops, that include wood shavings for bedding, a food tray and water bottle, an exercise wheel, and perches. Cages should be spacious and kept out of drafts and bright light. Pelleted vegetable matter sold by pet shops is suitable for a hamster's basic diet but should be supplemented with seeds, raw vegetable greens and roots, and dead insects.

The black hamster is Cricetus cricetus; golden, C. auratus. Hamsters belong to the family Cricetidae.