A golden or Syrian hamster
So you want to get a pet hamster. The most common species of pet hamster is the familiar golden hamster, also known as the Syrian hamster. They come in lots more colors than golden and three hair lengths - short, long and bald.
But your decisions do not stop at colors and hair length. Should you get a male or female hamster? You can only get one hamster per cage, because golden hamsters do not play well with other hamsters and will fight. Keep one hammie to a cage, please.
Problems with Females
Females are larger than males, which makes them easier for adults or older children to hold. Females are just as intelligent, colorful and friendly as males, notes Training Your Pet Hamster (Barron's; 2002). But females have a big problem - they can get pregnant. If you get your female hamster from a pet shop, the odds are very high that she will be pregnant.
It is very difficult to tell the difference between male and female baby hamsters when they are weaned, so males and females may be kept in the same cage before the male's testicles begin to grow. A breeder or and some rescues are skilled at keeping the sexes apart. A good rescue will keep a female hamster separate from other hamsters for two or three weeks before placing her up for adoption, just to see if she is pregnant.
Problems with Males
Males are slightly smaller than females, which may make them a bit more difficult to handle. Male hamsters can be trained to walk onto the palm of your hand or into a hamster ball that may make carrying easier. Males are reported to have stronger-smelling urine, but this writer has never detected a difference between the scent of girl hamster pee and boy hamster pee.
But the big problem with males - okay, two big problems - are their testicles. They are huge in relation to the size of the hamster's body. Schoolteachers getting a class pet prefer to get female hamsters because they will not make the children giggle all day. These large testicles may develop tumors later in life. This can be treated through neutering the hamster.
If you are choosing a hamster for a classroom, choose a male. If you absolutely do not want babies, then choose a male. If you want a slightly larger hamster that can be more easily picked up with adult hands, choose a female. Otherwise, either sex is okay for a pet.
Training Your Pet Hamster. Gerry Bucsis and Barbara Somerville. Barron's; 2002.
Hamsters. Nancy Ferris, et al. Bow Tie Press; 2008.
Hamsteriffic.com "Quick Reference Illness Guide." http://www.hamsterific.com/illnessguide.cfm