The normal coloring of the Winter White hamster (Phodopus sungorus) is a dark brownish gray, much darker than the normal coloring of the Campbell’s hamster (P. campbelli), which it most closely resembles in size, appearance and character in comparison to the other dwarf hamsters.
Various hamster clubs recognize sapphire as the only recognized color mutation of the Winter White Russian. The sapphire has a purple-gray coat with side arches defined by darker edges separating the topcoat and the off-white belly color. Within the arches are colored hairs and down the center of the hamster’s back is a thick, soft gray dorsal stripe, slightly thicker between the shoulders.
Two pattern mutations are recognized in the Winter White Russian hamster: the pearl and the imperial. Both patterns can be combined with the normal or the sapphire. The pearl is a white hamster with colored hairs ticked through the coat, being most concentrated along the dorsal area. The amount of colored hairs can vary between hamsters, with some hamsters being almost white, and other hamsters being heavily ticked with color.
The imperial pattern gives the Winter White a pure-white belly and reduced-colored hairs in the areas under the side arches. However, some doubt exists about whether this mutation continues to exist in the United States.
Other “alleged” mutations of the Winter White Russian hamster are known under names such as pudding (also sometimes referred to as yellow or mandarin) and tiger (brown and ginger colors in a brindled pattern). Several respected hamster experts of both species became aware of these mutations in the 1990s and agreed without doubt that the early hamsters of these mutations were not pure Winter Whites, but hybrids of Campbell’s hamsters and Winter White hamsters. It seems certain that these mutations actually occurred in hybrid stock and not in either pure species of hamster.
Unfortunately, these mutations were repeatedly mated into Winter White lines during the years, causing the hybrid mutations to resemble Winter White hamsters more and more with each generation. Today, many of these hamsters are less obviously hybrids in appearance and are more easily mistaken as pure Winter Whites — and often misguidedly sold as such. However, hybrids will only ever produce hybrids; these hamsters should not be confused with the pure Winter White Russian species.
Excerpt from the Popular Critters Series magabook Hamsters with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Hamsters here.