Any breed of small animal kept in captivity will, over time, develop variations in color. In the wild, individual animals born with a different color from the norm are often more noticeable to predators and, hence, do not usually live long enough to breed; therefore, extreme color variations in wild populations are rare.
Unusual or conspicuous color patterns are not an issue with animals in captivity, and human breeders often encourage and facilitate unusual color patterns by line breeding, which is inbreeding within a family (father and daughter or brother and sister, for example) in order to “fix” a desirable trait. This type of inbreeding can lead to health issues in animals due to limiting the genetic material in the breed, but hamster do not appear to suffer noticeably from these complications.
Different hamster breeds have different colors available. Remember that you local pet store may not carry a large variety of hamsters, so if you have your heart set on a certain color, you may want to check with local breeders if local pet stores do not have what you are looking for. It is sometimes possible to special-order your hamster, so be sure to inquire about this possibility.
Syrian (golden, teddy bear) hamsters
This particular species is available in dozens of colors, including black, albino, cream, gray, lilac, cinnamon and yellow. In addition to the solid colors available, there are several patterns available, as well. The three most common patterns are banded, spotted and tortoiseshell. (A note about the albino variations – they have no pigment in their eyes, so the eyes are pink. This lack of pigment makes them extremely sensitive to bright light, so take this into consideration.) You can tell the difference between a white hamster and an albino by the color of their eyes – white hamsters have dark eyes.
Campbell’s Russian hamsters
This particular species is available in about 2 dozen colors. The most popular include mottled black, lilac fawn, champagne, argente (which is cinnamon or sandy-colored), albino, and blue. They are also still available in their original color, which is gray. New colors are being developed in this breed, as well.
At this time, Chinese hamsters are only available in 2 varieties. These are the normal color (dark gray-brown with a dark strip and an off-white color on the belly). It is also available in white with patches of color.
At this time this species is only available in sandy brown, which is its natural color.
Winter White hamster
This species is only available in 3 colors. The normal color is gray, but it is also found in pearl and sapphire. The pearl color is white (with black eyes)and is, essentially, the winter color of the hamster’s coat.
Variations in coat color make the hamster an attractive pet and lots of fun for even recreational breeders. If you wish to develop new hamster coat colors of your own, it is not difficult to do. It can even be a rewarding lesson for older children for recreation or as part of a homeschooling curriculum.