Last updated August 19th, 2016
This is a post exploring all about the Roborovski hamster. It is a place to give you all the information and facts that you need to adopt/buy, care for, tame and breed them.
The fastest and smallest
Roborovski’s are the fastest and smallest of all hamsters and can live between two and three years.
They are curious pets but are easily startled, however they do not bite very often.
Roborovski’s are popularly kept as pets and are one of five hamster breeds that are kept as such.
They are the smallest species of hamster that are kept as pets and measure a total length of between four and five centimeters including their tail.
Characteristics of Roborovski’s
Roborovski hamsters are very affectionate towards their fellow kin.
Unlike other species of hamster, can live with each other and be housed together from an early age and sleep, playing and eating together in one place.
So they are very distinctive compared to other hamster species.
For this reason they are much loved around the world.
They have many fan groups, communities and clubs that have been established to help owners care for them in the best way possible.
What are Roborovski hamsters?
Their scientific name is Phodopus roborovskii. It used to be Cricetulus bedfordiae. They are also known as desert hamsters, Roborovski’s desert hamsters or Robo’s.#
Roborovski hamsters have the following scientific taxonomic classification;
The above classification is their taxonomic classification.
This describes their name and place in the natural world along with the relationship that they have with other plants and animals.
Three species in the genus
There are three species of hamster in the genus Phodopus and the Roborovski hamster is the smallest in size. This genus of hamsters are known for their small size and are native to central Asia and for their ability to adapt to extreme temperatures
They are the only line of hamsters that live in groups as opposed to living on their own.
Who discovered the Roborovski hamster?
Roborovski’s are part of the hamster family Cricetinae due to their cheek pouches that they use to store food, their short tails and rounded body shape.
Lt. Vsevolod Roborovski
They were first discovered by Lt. Vsevolod Roborovski, a Russian expeditioner.
He first made note of this species of hamster on an expedition near to Nan Shan in July 1894.
It is from his name that this species is known.
Konstantin Alekseevich Satunin
One of the first to study the Roborovski hamster was the zoologist Konstantin Alekseevich Satunin around 1903.
The Roborovski hamster was first obtained by the Zoological Society of London in the 1970s, but unfortunately the species did not breed during this time.
Other European countries had more success in breeding the species that they had acquired from Russia.
Imported to the USA
They were imported by a breeder into the United States in 1998.
However it remains a rare species in the US despite attempts to breed those that have been caught in the wild in their natural habitat.
Wild Roborovski hamsters are known to be easily stressed and fail to reproduce or die as a result.
Roborovski’s that have been tamed and bred in captivity are much less stressed and have been much more successful at breeding as a result.
Where do Roborovski hamsters come from?
Roborovski hamsters enjoy areas where there is loose sand and where vegetation is sparse.
They don’t particularly like areas of dense vegetation and where there is solid clay substrates.
In the wild, they build burrows with tunnels that are steep measuring up to six feet underground.
How big are Roborovski hamsters?
Roborovski hamsters measure between 4.5–5 cm (2 inches) and 20-25 grams (1 oz) when they reach maturity.
When they are born, they tend to measure around 2 cm (1 inch) in length.
Common illnesses of Roborovski hamsters
This is a bacterial infection which can cause very extreme diarrhea.
This affects all species of hamster and is often caused by an unbalanced diet and stress.
Common symptoms of wet tail
- The area around a hamster’s anus looks wet and sticky
- They will not be as active and are slow moving
- The hamster will be very quiet
- They won’t eat
If a Robo is displaying any of the above symptoms then they need veterinary attention as soon as possible.
They should also be kept in a quiet and warm environment to help reduce stress.
They do not fight wet tail as well as other hamsters.
Robo’s are easily susceptible to diarrhea due to the scarcity of vegetation in the wild.
You can tell if a Robo has diarrhoea if they have runny poop and they are not eating or drinking.
It can be caused by either;
- A bad diet
- A change in their food intake which is too sudden for them.
- Living in draughty areas
- Living in damp areas.
- Eating rotten food
- Drinking dirty water
- Feeding on too many vegetables
If they get diarrhea, then this can kill a Roborovski if it isn’t caught at an early stage.
However, do seek out veterinary advice regarding them.
Common ways to aid a Roborovski with diarrhea is to feed it dry food.
It is also worth changing its toilet and nesting area at least twice during the day.
To help prevent them from getting diarrhea, change their drinking water each day.
Remove any old food that they haven’t eaten, and give them raspberry leaves to chew on.
Wounds from fighting
If you evidence Roborovski’s fighting or at least playing then they may get bitten or scratched in the process.
This is something that needs to be taken seriously.
Fighting between Roborovski’s often happens at night when they are most active, so you may not see it happening.
Signs that they are fighting include;
- bald patches
- bleeding of the scabs on their backside
Don’t leave scabbing or baldness to heal itself as it may get infected and they will inevitably try and pick at it.
It is worth seeking veterinary attention as a result, they will suggest remedies that will help them heal from their wounds.
Mites are a common problem in many animals including Roborovski’s.
Common symptoms of mites are;
- Bald patches
- Wet fur
- Pink flesh/ears
- You may see mites jumping in their fur.
Mite infections are contagious and so a mite-infested Roborovski needs to be isolated and their cage cleaned out and sterilized.
Give them fresh bedding, and spray the cage with anti-mite spray.
Whilst spraying the hamster with anti-mite spray, shield their eyes and head.
The anti-mite fluid needs to come into contact with the skin in order to be effective.
Follow the directions on the bottle and seek out veterinary advice if there is no improvement.
When dealing with them, make sure you wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap so as prevent the spread of infection.
Mites can bite humans and cause small welts to occur.
However, they cannot live in human skin and will not cause scabies in human beings.
This is unfortunately a neurological disorder that is a common ailment amongst Roborovski’s that have been inbred.
They will just spin around constantly.
Roborovski’s will also do this when they are stressed.
If you notice that this is happening, try and keep them occupied as much as possible and make sure they have an exercise wheel to run on.
Further reading: A thorough examination of Robo illnesses is found here
What do Roborovski hamsters eat?
Robo’s are not much different from other species of hamster.
However they are the only hamsters that are almost vegetarian and so will eat veggies and fruit if it is given to them.
They cannot eat fruit or vegetables that are high in sugar as it will make them sick if they eat too much of it.
How much should you feed them?
Roborovski’s should only be fed a very small amount of food at any one time due to their size compared to other types of hamsters such as Syrian’s.
Give them mainly hamster ‘muesli’ which can be purchased from pet stores and made up of cereals, nuts and dried fruits.
The best muesli will also have some brazil nuts or banana flakes.
A single Roborovski will need their bowl filled 1/3 of the way with muesli.
Two Roborovski’s will obviously need double that amount.
Try and re-fill their dish each day and be consistent about the time you do so.
Clean out any left over food from the previous day and any that has been stored in the sleeping area.
Fruit that Roborovski’s can eat
Roborovski hamsters can eat fruit but make sure that they are not acidic.
The general guide to feeding them fruit is to give them a tiny piece.
Remember what is tiny to you, will be normal size for a Robo.
These are the fruit’s that are fine for them to eat;
Peaches (without the stone)
Plums (without the pits)
Raspberries and their leaves
Vegetables that Roborovski’s can eat
As with fruit, make sure that any vegetables are fed sparingly and a tiny piece is given to them only.
Vegetables are quite high in water so too much is not good for them.
Corn on the Cob
Sweet bell Peppers
Foods to avoid feeding Roborovski hamsters
As with any pet, there are foods that they definitely can’t eat.
The reasons why are specific for each food but generally it is because they are either too high in sugar, acids, or water content.
Too much of either of those will make a Robo sick.
Peach Stone & Leaves
Lemon or Lime
Jams and jellies
Chips and any junk food
Raw Kidney Beans
How do Roborovski hamsters breed?
If you want to breed two Roborovski hamsters, it is not a difficult thing to do.
But it should only be attempted if you are sure that you know what you are doing and you have researched what you need to do well.
Before a female Robo gets preganant
Robo’s breed seasonally
What happens after the pups are born?
What is the development of a Roborovski hamster?
How to sex a Roborovski hamster
Trying to sex a Roborovski can be difficult as due to their size and agility.
They are extremely wriggly so trying to keep hold of them is tricky.
However, the way to tell apart a male and female is to check the distances between the genitals and the anus.
The distance between a male anus and its genitals is double that of a female Roborovski.
How long do Robo’s live for?
In captivity when they are kept as pets, they live for around three years. This can extend to four if they have the right care.
In the wild, their average lifespan is much less.
What are the characteristics of Roborovski hamsters?
Are Robo’s quick?
They are very fast creatures and are difficult to catch.
Do Robo’s like being picked up?
They don’t necessarily like to be handled very much and so need a lot of time and patience to be tamed.
For this reason, they are not good pets for children.
When are Robo’s most active?
In the wild, they are most active between September and November and during the evening and at dawn.
Do Robo’s drink a lot?
They are very efficient at economizing their water needs and are able to highly concentrate their urine, surviving on less water than other dwarf hamsters.
Can Robo’s live in cold temperatures?
They are very sensitive to heat but can bear cold temperatures more easily, but do be careful as they could go into shock..
Do Robo’s hibernate?
No they don’t go into hibernation.
If the weather gets colder, a Robo will definitely feel that cold even though they have a coat of fur to give them protection.
Hamsters are desert creatures and so will feel the cold, even though they have evolved as captive animals.
If the temperature drops severely, they can slip into a state called ‘shock’.
They go into this state when there is a dramatic change in temperature which can give the impression that the hamster is dead or dying.
This is because their heart rate will slow and breathing will become shallow.
This can often be confused as hibernation.
They can also go into shock when they are dropped or have another body change that they see as a threat.
Do Robo’s bite?
Yes they do bite. It is in their instinct to do so and the way they defend themselves if they feel they are being threatened.
Do Robo’s fight?
Yes they do fight unfortunately. They can fight with their siblings as well as strange hamsters.
Do Robo’s squeak?
Yes they can squeak, and it can be because of the following reasons;
- They are fighting either seriously or playfully
- The Robo appears apprehensive.
- They are discontented.
- The Robo is in pain or is sick.
What variations of Roborovski hamsters are there?
There are ten variations of Roborovski hamster;
- This is also known as ‘wild’ or ‘natural’ coloring which is the most common form of coloring.
- Agouti colored Roborovski’s are the most common variation to be found in pet stores.
- They have a sandy colored coat that has grey hair roots.
- Agouti have small white eyebrows and their ears have a little black on the side of them with a patch of white behind them.
- They have white belly’s with a tiny patch of gold where their scent gland is found.
- Agouti have pink noses and surrounded by white and sandy colored fur.
- They have plentiful whiskers and long-white with some darker whiskers close to their eyes.
White face variation
- This is a dominant mutation producing an agouti-colored hamster with a white face.
- They are also called ‘white mask’ or ‘husky robo’s’.
- However, there are some theories that tampering with their coloring has produced Robo’s that have been known to have health issues in later life.
- Their white face coat is similar to the agouti apart from the usual white eyebrow feature which is not present in this variation.
- Their face is white and then their body is agouti colored. However, there are lighter variations.
- This variation first appeared in Sweden in the early twenty first century, before it spread into Europe.
- This is a recessive mutation that produces a white-faced hamster with the body having a more paler, and orangey coat than the agouti colour.
- They are also called ‘white mask’ or ‘husky robo’s’.
- The white face coat is similar as the agouti apart from the white eyebrow feature which isn’t found in this variation.
- They first appeared in Sweden in 2002 before spreading to the rest of Europe.
- There is a case of two agouti’s mating with the offspring being one white-faced pup with a diluted color and one Agouti pup.
- This was because of the recessive gene.
Mottled or Pied variation
Both dominant and recessive mutations have been identified.
These hamsters have the agouti colouring with irregular patches of white over their heads, bodies and sometimes their faces
- This variation of white faced Roborovski’ hamsters are born with a diluted color on their whole body and not just their face.
- There are several theories as to how this has come about.
- It has been said that a separate color gene produces this diluted color or that it maybe that the gene is possibly acting differently.
- Another theory is that it maybe an illness or weakness that is hidden.
Head spot variation:
This is a combination of the dominant and recessive pied genes that creates a pure white animal with one patch of colour on the head
- Also known as dark-eared white, this is a combination of the dominant white-faced gene and the husky gene that produces a white hamster that retains a greyish undercoat and ears
Also known as pure white variation, this is a combination of the two pied genes that produces a pure white hamster
- This is a recessive mutation that produces a caramel-colored hamster that has a chocolate undercoat, dark brown or red eyes, and pale ear.
How to tame a Roborovski hamster
Because of their size and speed, Roborovski’s can be harder to tame than other hamsters such as Syrian’s that are much larger in size.
Taming is defined as being able to hold them in your hand without them being scared and startled.
It is something that can’t be rushed and requires patience, quick hands and persistence.
When you handle them, try and make sure that the environment is very quiet so that there is nothing that scares them and cause them to run.
Try and not to move suddenly and startle them. A good tip is to wear dark clothing which will attract them much more than lighter clothing will.
For the first few times that you are with your Robo, just try and hang out with them.
Let them get to know you and what you scent is.
Try and sit in an open area where they can crawl over you and if they run off your shoulder, they won’t get hurt.
You can catch they before they dash under an object that you cant reach them.
The aim is that their fear of you is reduced.
Try and give them some kind of treat, so have something nice for them to eat whilst you are with them.
By spending regular time with them they should calm down enough for you to try and reach with a finger and stroke them.
At the first few times that you do this, they will probably run off but if you keep trying to do this gently, they will get to the point where they will sit on your hand and let them stroke you without running away.
Once you get to this point, you should be able to offer them treats without any problem.
When you give them treats, make sure to get their attention and not shove the treat in their face.
Just hold it close to them and wait for them to decide if they want it.
Try and use treats to train your Robo to crawl onto your hand.
If you keep doing this they will eventually crawl onto your hand without the need to bribe them with a treat.
How to look after a Roborovski hamster
What should a Robo live in?
Just like other types of hamster, Robo’s need a home to live in.
However it needs to be large enough for them to run around in and deep enough for them to dig comfortably in.
The environment that they live in should be dry and warm not exposed to extreme temperatures.
Keeping them inside the home is the best place for them, but otherwise a warm outhouse will suffice as well.
Never keep your robo outside or in an environment where another pet might get at them or scare them.
The cage or aquarium that you buy for you Robo should have a minimum floor size of around 50cm x 30cm for two Robo siblings.
If it has multiple levels, try and keep the ground floor size of that size.
They will appreciate all the room that you can give to them.
So if you opt of those that have lots of tube attachments, make sure that the main section is large too as on some cages that you can purchase, it isn’t.
Give them enough space in their home which is large enough to accommodate them and their needs.
They need an exercise wheel that provides opportunity for them to run in and exercise.
Give them lots of toys and fun things to play with in their cage such as cardboard tubes and hidey houses to keep them entertained.
What bedding and substrates do Robo’s need?
They need substrates to be placed in their cage so that they can dig.
These can be wood-shavings, paper bedding, corn cob bedding, or aspen bedding.
Gerbilarium substrate can also be used, which is a mixture of compost, chopped hay or aspen bedding and sand.
What else do I need to purchase for a Robo?
They need a dust bath available for them to clean the grease of their fur.
This is chinchilla sand in a container such as a cat bowl or the top of an egg box.
Otherwise, use two separate food bowls, water bottle, house and food for them to feed out of so they have their own food, water and place to sleep.
Putting a Robo in their new environment
They are very nervous creatures so try and keep the environment that they live in quiet to avoid scaring them.
Don’t put unfamiliar Robo’s together. They are very likely to fight so only keep siblings together.
Try and spend time taming your Robororski.
It takes time, so don’t be discouraged if it does not take to you immediately. Dedicate time to doing this.
When you are holding your Robo, don’t hold them at a high height as they are very nervous and fast creatures and will jump at any height given the opportunity.
Keep them low and close to the ground.
If you have two Robo’s together, then it maybe better to scatter their food around the cage.
It will encourage them to forage for their food and help them become less like rivals for their food.
Limit the number and size of treats that you give them.
What seems like a small portion size of food to you, will seem massive for a robo.
So try and limit the number and size of the food that you give them.
For example, for sunflower seeds, just give one or two seeds at a maximum.
What do Robo’s need to chew on?
Robo’s like other hamsters and rodents need to chew.
Their teeth are constantly growing and so the way they grind their teeth is to chew on objects.
Here is a list of objects that you could get for your Roborovski hamster to chew on.
It is not an exhaustive list and there are many more things you could get them to chew on.
- Empty paper towel rolls
- Toilet rolls
- Cardboard (such as cereal boxes)
- Lava chews
- Flavored wood
Where to get a Roborovski hamster
As one of the five major hamster breeds available to own as a pet. Roborovski hamsters are available from a number of different places:
Stores such as Pet Smart have them for sale starting from $11.99 at the time of writing this post.
Do check that the hamster has been looked after well.
Some pet stores keep their pets in cramped conditions which are no place for an animal.
Check that they have been looked after and cared for well.
There are a number of hamster breeders who breed Robo’s in an ethical way who take great care in breeding hamsters well.
Do check out some local breeders in your area.
Here are some hamster breeders that can be found in the United States.
Rescue shelters are great places to adopt a pet.
Rescues are always looking for good owners to adopt the pets that they rescue.
Do check out your local rescue to see if they have Roborovski’s that need a good home.
Website’s like Petfinder can also be a great source of information about adopting a pet hamster.
Sources and citations