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Chinese Hamster


All about Chinese hamsters. All in one place.

Chinese Hamster Library

All about Chinese hamsters. All in one place.

The History of Chinese Hamsters

Wild Chinese hamsters are found in Central and North West China, as well as parts of Russia, Mongolia and Korea. They live in arid country, though have also spread into cropland.

Chinese hamsters in the wild eat mainly grains and legumes. They are most active in the first half of the night. They make metre-long burrows which are 10 to 50cm deep. Two or three entrances lead to around four branches, each ending in a grass-lined nest or stoage area.

Chinese hamsters were first described as laboratory animals in 1919, although they were sold in China as pets before that. At that time mice were scarce, so Chinese hamsters were caught and used to identify pneumococcal types. They continued to be used and bred in China for research, particularly into leishmaniasis. Attempts to establish colonies in India, England and USA failed due to the hamsters fighting. The breeding failure led to the capture of the Syrian hamster to complete the research!

 On 12th December 1948, on the eve of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, 10 males and 10 females were shipped to Harvard in Boston, USA. Dr Hu from the Peking Union Medical College helped with this export. Because of this he was sent to a detention camp for 6 months.

In the Wild

Weight: 20-35g

Head and body length: 72-116mm

Tail length: 15-26mm

Hind foot length: 13-19mm

Ear length: 14-17mm

Skull length: 22-28mm


This colony succeeded and thrived. It was instrumental in research on diabetes. In 1957 a researcher removed an ovary from a female Chinese hamster. Cells from this ovary have been grown in laboratories from that day to this. These Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cells have been used to develop medications such as Herceptin, Humira, Factor VIII and erythropoeitin.

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