Acta Theriologica

, Volume 59, Issue 2, pp 211–221 | Cite as

White chest in the west: pelage colour and mitochondrial variation in the common hamster (Cricetus cricetus) across Europe

  • Oskar Schröder
  • Jonas Astrin
  • Rainer Hutterer
Original Paper


The common hamster (Cricetus cricetus L.), a rodent of the Eurasian steppes and agricultural areas, is threatened by habitat loss. Remnant populations in Western and Central Europe are small, isolated and genetically impoverished. The populations of Belgium, The Netherlands and North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (BNN), for which Nehring proposed the epiphet canescens, are most affected by this decline. They are distinguished from more eastern populations by large, white areas on throat, chest and forelegs. These traits are sometimes also found in other populations, which casts doubt on their value as diagnostic characteristics. Here, we show that the frequency of occurrence of relatively large chest spots, chin streaks and cuffs on the forelegs is highest in BNN, where a white chest spot occurs in 67–100 % of the sampled individuals, compared to 0–8 % in Central and Eastern European populations. Additionally, hamsters from the Upper Rhine area also display relatively high frequencies of these characters (7–44 %). This suggests a common origin of BNN and Upper Rhine hamsters and an ancient expansion route along the Rhine Valley. A supplementary genetic study of two mitochondrial genes revealed extremely low diversity in both BNN and Upper Rhine hamsters but also clear differentiation and isolation between the two remaining relict populations of North Rhine-Westphalia.


Common hamster Morphometry Founder effect Genetic diversity 



We thank Nora Lange (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin), Katrin Krohmann (Naturmuseum Senckenberg), Steven van der Mije (Naturalis Leiden) and Marie Meister (Musée Zoologique de la Ville de Strasbourg) for their help during visits to the respective collections. Further, we thank Michael Hiermeier (Zoologische Staatssammlung München) for sending pictures of Franconian specimens and Michael Straube (NABU-Haus Wildenrath), who oversaw the collection of the recent North Rhine-Westphalian samples. Jan Decher provided language support. DNA extraction and sequencing were performed by Laura von der Mark. This is a publication of the German Barcode of Life (GBOL) project of the Humboldt Ring, financed by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research.

Supplementary material

13364_2013_158_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (92 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 92 kb)


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Copyright information

© Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, Białowieża, Poland 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oskar Schröder
    • 1
  • Jonas Astrin
    • 1
  • Rainer Hutterer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of VertebratesZoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander KoenigBonnGermany

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