Hamsters may look adorable as they fill their faces, but their puffy cheeks can be the difference between life and death in the wild
Life can be full of hazards when you’re only a few inches long. Hamsters can’t afford to spend too much time in
the open where they’re visible to predators, so they’ve developed a clever method for putting food away until they’re somewhere they feel safe. Many people are familiar with the sight of a hamster cramming food into its cheeks — in the Arab dialect of the area where it’s found in the wild, the Syrian hamster’s name translates roughly as ‘Mister saddlebags’. But have you ever wondered just how much room there is in there?
Hamsters pack any food they find into their cheek pouches with their front paws, storing as much as half their own body weight. If they found food in a tight spot, their claws and flexible spines allow them to wiggle and clamber their way back out.
When we eat, saliva in our mouths mixes with our food. Stored food doesn’t get soggy while it’s being transported by a hamster because they don’t have salivary glands inside their pouches.
Pouches in the mouth lining reach all the way back to the animal’s hips, creating plenty of room for storage. The video below uses x-rays to show just how much a hamster can pack away.
When a hamster reaches its burrow or food store, it will use its paws to push out the edible contents of its cheeks. They can amass huge stores in case they’re ever unable to find food in the future.
It’s not just seeds and fruit that go in the pouch — female hamsters can put their pups in there if they feel threatened or need to travel a long distance.