Phodopus, a genus of rodents in the hamster subfamily Cricetinae—a division of the larger family Cricetidae—is a lineage of small hamsters native to central Asia that display unusual adaptations to extreme temperatures. They are the only known hamsters that live in groups and, in some cases, rely on significant contributions by males to the raising of offspring. They are nocturnal and active throughout the year; they do not hibernate. Species of Phodopus, together with members of the genera Cricetulus, Allocricetulus and Tscherskia are called dwarf hamsters because of their small size (roughly 7 to 10 centimetres or 2.8 to 3.9 inches) relative to other hamsters.
Like other hamsters, members of Phodopus have a round body shape, short tails and cheek pouches in which they can store food. They all live in dry conditions with extreme temperatures. They inhabit the forests, steppes and semi-deserts of Mongolia, Siberia, China and Kazakhstan. Fossils of Phodopus have been found in Pleistocene and Pliocene deposits in Europe and Asia.
Phodopus species are commonly sold as small pets. They are also used as laboratory organisms for a variety of studies, especially involving seasonal endocrine variation. Some species are considered to be agricultural pests.
All three species are widespread and probably abundant, and are assessed as Least Concern (LC) by the IUCN Red List, unlike their larger cousin, the golden hamster, which is also kept as a pet and is listed as Vulnerable (VU). However, their ecology and population dynamics are not well understood. Historical records indicate they were once common in places where they no longer occur. Consequently, they are listed in the Kazakhstan Government Regulation of Approval of Rare and Endangered Animal and Plant Species Index (2006).
Phodopus species inhabit the mountainous forests, steppes, and semideserts of Mongolia and the adjacent areas of China, northeast Kazakhstan, and the southern part of the West Siberian lowlands of Tuva and Dauria. All three species are widespread, although some isolated local populations exist. All three species are probably abundant and are assessed as Least Concern (LC) in the IUCN Red List. They all occur to some extent in protected areas, at least in Mongolia, and are not thought to face significant threats to their existence. Because the status and dynamics of their populations are uncertain, some species are treated as species of concern (for example, the government of Kazakhstan requires monitoring of P roborovskii)
Some species are clearly diminished in range and may have been extirpated as agricultural pests or by habitat destruction.