Mice Rats and Relatives: Muridae
Black-bellied Hamster (cricetus Cricetus): Species Accounts
Physical characteristics: Black-bellied hamsters have a short hairless tail; a thick fur that is reddish brown above with white patches on the flanks, nose, cheeks, and throat; and black underparts. Males are larger than females. Adults are 8 to 12 inches (20 to 34 centimeters) long and weigh between 4.5 and 36.3 ounces (112 to 908 grams).
Geographic range: These hamsters are found in central and eastern Europe, from Belgium to the Altai region of Siberia.
Habitat: Black-bellied hamsters live in lowlands such as steppes, agricultural lands, and along riverbanks.
Diet: Their diet includes grains, beans, roots, green plant parts, insect larvae (especially beetle larvae), frogs, earthworms, and field mice. They often store cereal grains, seeds, peas, and potatoes in winter burrows.
Behavior and reproduction: Black-bellied hamsters generally live alone; are active at night; and hibernate in winter. Winter burrows can extend more than 6 feet (2 meters) below the soil surface. Older females with young have the most complex burrows with several entrance tunnels, numerous chambers for nesting and food storage, and a dead-end tunnel for waste disposal. Breeding takes place from June to August. A courting male enters a female's territory by marking an area with his secretions, running after the female, and making loud sniffing noises. The female drives away the male after mating. The gestation period is eighteen to twenty days, with a litter of four to twelve pups. Two litters are raised each year. They sometimes live to the age of eight years old.
Black-bellied hamsters and people: People hunt black-bellied hamsters for food and trap them for clothing. They are considered pests when around cornfields, but do help to control other pests such as mice and insects. The rodents are also used as laboratory animals.
Conservation status: Black-bellied hamsters are protected under European Community Habitats Directive as a threatened species in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Austria. They are also protected in Croatia, Bulgaria, and Slovenia. ∎
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