Where Did All of the
Colors Come From?

By Lorraine Hill
Question:  As all our pet Syrian Hamsters came originally from wild ones which were all the same golden color - How is it possible that we now have hamsters in all different shades, colors, black, white etc.

This question really came about whilst observing, on the quite long drive home from work, that ALL wild rabbits are brown. Yet pet ones can be black, white, grey etc. And of course the same rule applies to my hamsters. For example, if you breed a wild brown hamster to another wild brown hamster, how do you get all these colors?

Answer: When any animal mates both parents pass copies of their genes to the offspring. Each gene individually represents a characteristic.

Sometimes during the copying process when the parents' genes are copied to pass to the offspring there is very occasionally (1 in a million chance) an error in the formation a gene and this changed gene can affect the appearance or another characteristic of the offspring.

In captivity these mutations are then actively bred to produce more of the mutation.
In the wild mutations do occur but their chances of survival may not always be good. There may be weaknesses associated with a genetic mutation which while this may be "corrected" with careful breeding in captivity would not easily survive in the wild. Even without any weakness associated with the mutation it may not survive well in the wild - eg a brown rabbit in the wild is well camaflouged - an albino mutation in the wild would be easily spotted prey to any fox (unless it was winter and there was snow on the ground of course) meaning of course that the mutation would have little chance of survival in the wild.

As for hamsters in the wild as far as I am aware the Campbells does or did have Albino and at least one other colour in the wild (can't remember whether it was Opal or Argente). The European Hamster I seem to remember has a black mutation in the wild also.