Colour genes and their subsequent varieties are a subject that can be widely and hotly debated. Thankfully the National Hamster Council goes to great lengths to make sure that recognised mutations and standard colours are vetted and approved. A breeder must go through the process of proving how a gene is carried and what it does as well as what it looks like, thoroughly. I'm proud to be part of an organisation that promotes such responsibility amongst it's breeders.
The content of this page is intended to be descriptive for pet owners and those new to the fancy that are looking for information on varieties. It is not intended to be informative for experienced breeders, and does not contain genetic codes or similar. This information is already available from websites within the clubs and is learned from members at shows during your journey to breed. This information is intentionally basic, if you would like more information do feel free to contact me.
The content of this page refers to the varieties that I breed and is not a general list of what varieties are available. Much more information on other varieties in all species mentioned can be found in the National Hamster Council Handbook on their website.
Genotype - The genes that an animal has which govern what it looks like or what colour pups it can create.
Phenotype - What the animal looks like.
Syrian Hamster Varieties
Black - This gene is recessive meaning an animal needs two copies to produce the black phenotype. A black animal or melanistic animal is black to the roots with black ears and black eyes. Syrians suffer from white markings that are considered faults, although they do look cute.
Black looks good as a short hair, rex or satin but is washed out as a long haired hamster as the longer hair turns a grey or blue towards the roots.. Black patterned animals like a black banded (also known as panda outside the fancy), black dominant spot or recessive dappled makes for a striking animal.
Black doesn't tend to do well on the show bench as they often suffer from bad type (narrow head and small size) although some breeders do produce nice examples. Black also browns quickly so the show life is relatively short compared to other colours.
Below are photos of my animals. A black pup, black tortoiseshell pup and black banded adult.
Black breeds well with golden, that doesn't change it's colour. If bred with rust you can make chocolate, with cinnamon you can make dove and with yellow you can make melanistic yellow or black tortoiseshell.
You should steer clear of cream as an animal can look cream but be genetically black. Creamed out (referred to as ghost yellow) tortoiseshells are too light to do well in shows. The standard calls for darker markings. Equally, melanistic yellow creams (melanistic ghost yellow) are also disappointingly light.
Black should not be bred with silver grey unless you are looking to make a non standard black with silver roots. These have been referred to as both dingy black and black pearls. Both are somewhat misleading names although two copies of silver and two copies of black produces a browner animal. Dingy is quite a negative name for a something that is still pretty in my view.
Silver Grey - In my view, a very beautiful and bright colour. Silver grey is very different to the recessive dark grey. Silver can be homozygous or heterozygous and is dominant. This means that a hamster only needs one copy of this gene (heterozygous) to produce the silver grey phenotype. But two copies (homozygous) produce a lighter animal.
Silver grey can be bred out to golden as pups can only be golden or silver. This is useful as silver changes almost every other colour it's combined with.
Not many silver variants are standard but with cream it makes silver grey ivory. This isn't standard yet, but looks identical to dark grey ivory and it's my hope that the standards are combined soon. Two copies of cream and two copies of silver grey gives you the standard black eyed white. If you use red eyed cream, you make a ruby or garnet eyed white although this doesn't have it's own standard yet.
Silver grey has a diluting effect on other colours. A silver cinnamon looks almost like a washed out red eyed silver grey for example. With yellow, you get an ivory coloured phenotype. A while back a couple of breeders bred silver with a few different colours and found this to be the case. You can have silver rust, silver chocolate, silver black, silver cinnamon, silver yellow or silver pearl and a silver pearl tortoiseshell depending on what genes you have. A silver pearl looks like a dark grey pearl but lighter as you would expect.
Because of this, it's not recommended to breed silver with other colours unless you are looking for something specific. I would suggest it's possible to standardise these varieties but silver isn't a colour that's greatly liked due to potential to 'ruin' good standard colours.
Silver grey can do well on the show bench with good type as well. As with black, it browns with age so the show life is short.
Silver grey looks good as a short haired or satin hamster but as with all agouti colours rex tends to cause under colour to show through too much and a long haired animal looks like it's lacking ticking. As self colours, ivory and white look great in any coat type but long hair is more likely to show patchy colour in an ivory and will lighten the colour too.
Images below are of my animals. A homozygous silver grey long haired male, a silver grey ivory and black eyed white pup side by side and a long haired adult long haired silver grey ivory
Golden - The default 'wild colour'. Golden pups will be produced if the available genes can't make any other colour. For example, if I were to mate a recessive rust hamster with a recessive black hamster I would expect a litter of goldens unless each parent carried matching recessive genes that could make a black, rust or chocolate animal. Golden isn't changed by other colours per se. To give an example - A cinnamon could be described as a red eyed golden in terms of phenotype but genetically a cinnamon doesn't have golden in it's genotype. You can't have a black golden, yellow golden or silver golden although you can have a golden tortoiseshell as this is a pattern.
Recently breeders have referred to 'blue golden' or 'dilute golden'. It's yet unclear whether this should just be a 'dilute' or not. There are breeders working on this as detailed below.
Goldens can do very well in a show but there are many factors to get right such as undercoat 'top colour' and ticking as well as type.
Anecdotally it is widely believed that goldens bred with cream are washed out and those bred with black are dull but I bred a beautiful golden litter out of a black mum showing that indeed, recessive colours do not affect phenoype if there is only one copy present. It's more likely that a washed out colour is random or the result of incorrectly selecting for good colour.
Goldens look great in short hair and satin. As an agouti, rex shows too much undercoat and too little top colour. Long hair pales colour but I do love an agouti skirt on a male hamster as it looks like a halo of colours.
Breed goldens to other colours that tend towards good type but there are plenty of lines producing goldens so you can breed golden to golden for the best colour and to avoid 'collecting' recessives that will pop up in litters and reduce your choices of nice pups to keep.
Golden banded hamsters look nice but as with any agouti, spotted varieties tend to lose out on colour marks as it's hard to see all three colour levels in a tiny spot. Golden tortoiseshells aren't very distinctive either.
A golden's show life can be long but ticking can go brown in later life.
Images are of my animals - A brassy coloured golden with poor ticking, a satin golden showing how that coat type deepens colour and a lovely dark coloured pup with a clear view of crescents (the pale stripes on the neck) and cheek flashes (the black stripes down the cheeks) as well as the grey coloured underneath. An agouti with a white belly is showing the white bellied gene and is not standard. Some white markings on the stomach are common and is a fault.
Rust - Rust is a recessive gene so requires two copies to produce the correct phenotype. Rust can be combined with black to make chocolate and with umbrous, cream and cinnamon to create copper. Rust can make chocolate sables (rust, cream and umbrous) and chocolate melanistic yellow (rust, black and yellow). It's ability to change other phenotypes is still being explored.
Rust is often mistaken for golden but has brown markings instead of black and has no ticking. It most often encounters identification issues when alongside a poor cinnamon or poor golden.
Rust is especially hard to identify in spotted varieties and tortoisehells.
As with the agouti varieties above, a rust hamster looks best in short hair or satin although can look very good in long hair as it does not have ticking.
Breeding rust with golden or cinnamon is best avoided (unless breeding for copper) as pups might be difficult to identify for the novice exhibitor.
The images below are all animals in my hamstery - A long haired adult female, an adult rex male (showing washed out top coat as the undercoat shows through) and another adult long haired female.
Chocolate - This phenotype is made up of rust and black genes. It is the colour of plain chocolate and suffers the same effects of coat type as a black. It's a self animal so it has no agouti markings. A chocolate is the same colour to the roots unless long haired or bred with silver grey, sable or yellow.
A chocolate has a relatively long show life as it's hard to see browning on a brown animal! The colour does 'go off' if you like, and this can be seen in good light.
As you are dealing with two recessives, it's best to breed chocolate to black and rust in order to reduce the amount of breeding animals you need and to prevent producing a lot of other colours. The rusts you use should not have copper in their pedigree as cinnamon (used in the make up of copper) and black make dove, and you want chocolate.
Umbrous should be avoided as it makes a chocolate look very very dark and almost like a very brown black. Umbrous chocolate is not a standard colour yet.
Below is my adult long haired chocolate male showing the effect of long hair on this colour. The colour on the face is short so it's darker. He's an older boy so his colour isn't quite right anymore.
Blue - There is a lot of confusion about this gene. The term 'blue' refers to the phenotype and the name of the gene behind it is 'dilute'. Currently a blue is a self coloured animal that is thought to be a combination of black and dilute. However, there is theoretically an agouti blue that is often referred to as a 'blue golden' although this is misleading. This animal wouldn't be a golden and a dilute, it would just be a dilute in the same way that a cinnamon hamster is not called a 'red eyed golden'. I'm not certain what we'd call the agouti blue, it's definitely something to think about.
As said, blue is a self colour. Combined with sable you get a 'blue' sable and so on similar to chocolate above. The ideal coat types are the same and this colour does brown although it's not as noticeable as in a black. Although called 'dilute' this gene seems to affect only the black pigments in a coat although breeding to prove this is still ongoing and this remains an 'unrecognised mutation'. That means it cannot be shown or sold at a show. Pups are usually advertised for a donation to the club.
It's a pretty colour similar to blue in rats and mice but needs a lot of work on size and type still so when it is finally recognised it's unlikely to do well without this extra improvement.
This colour must be kept separate from silver. Although it does produce a hamster with pretty silver roots, it's nearly impossible to get rid of once it's in a line and spoils future breeding for others. There just isn't enough in this country to be breeding them with anything other than black and golden at the moment.
Pictured below are my own hamsters, bred here. A baby blue, and adult blue and a young silver blue. I've also added a photo of Poseidon as a pup, thought to be a dilute golden.