European hamsters have brown dorsal fur with white patches. Their chest and belly are black. The tail is short and furred. They have cheek pouches and much larger than the Syrian or dwarf hamsters, which are commonly kept as pets.
European hamsters are native to a large range in Eurasia. They are found from Belgium and Alsace (eastern France) in the west, to Russia in the east, and Bulgaria in the south. European hamsters inhabit low-lying farmland with soft loam or loess soils, although they may also occur in meadows, gardens or hedges.
European hamsters are usually solitary and crepuscular creatures. They live in a complex burrow system. Having elastic cheek pouches these hamsters transport their food to the food storage chambers. These may be quite large and may consist of a total of 65 kg of food including. European hamsters hibernate between October and March. During this time, they wake up every 5-7 days to feed from the storage chambers. These hamsters are good simmers. When a hamster needs to swim it inflates its cheek pouches with air for increased buoyancy. Sometimes during large population movements European hamsters can cross large rivers. These movements are usually caused by food shortages.
Little is known about the mating system in European hamsters. They breed from early April to August. Females usually give birth to 2 litters per year and the size of the litter ranges from 3 to 15 young. The gestation period lasts 18-20 days. Young are weaned at 3 weeks of age and reach adult size at 8 weeks. Adult European hamsters reach reproductive maturity when they are about 43 days old.
In western Europe, these hamsters suffered from persecution and agricultural intensification. They were trapped and poisoned to prevent damage to crops, and this practice still continues in some parts of their range. In eastern Europe, these animals are still trapped for their fur. Changing agricultural practices in eastern Europe may also become a threat in the future.
The IUCN Red List and other sources do not provide the European hamster total population size, but this animal is common and widespread throughout its known range. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red Lis, however its numbers today are decreasing.
European hamsters act as seed dispersers due to feeding upon various seeds and grains that are occasionally lost while storing.