Physical characteristics

Dwarf hamsters, genus Phodopus, are the smallest members of the group, averaging 2-4 in (5.3-10.2 cm) in length; the largest hamster is the black-bellied hamster, Cricetus cricetus, which at 7.9-13.4 in (20-34 cm) is about the size of a large rat or guinea pig.

Described as "all head and rump," hamsters have stout bodies and short legs and tails. The feet are wide, sometimes furry; the body fur is soft and thick and varies in color (depending on species) from gray to reddish brown; underparts can be white, gray, or black. Most hamsters have large cheek pouches.

Unusual for small mammals, the hamster stomach has two compartments; the forestomach, or cardiac stomach, has tough keratin as a structural component and is non-glandular, similar in structure and function to the rumen of cattle and other grazing animals. The second compartment—the pyloric, or glandular, region—is separated from the forestomach by muscular folds.

Hamsters have excellent hearing and an acute sense of smell; some species have scent glands on their flanks and use scent to mark their territories.

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