Hamsters are curious and adventurous little animals. They like to explore their surroundings, climb in their cage, and find out what happens around them. So they better have good eyesight to find their ways and know what they explore, right? And it would probably be helpful if they could also distinguish colors to get a better sense of what is ahead of them. But rumors have it that hamsters are color blind. Are they really?
Are hamsters color blind? Hamsters are color blind. But that doesn’t mean that they can only see in black and white. They can perceive shades of gray, but also shades of yellow and green. Hamsters can also sense movement around them, which protects them in the wild.
Now that we know hamsters are color blind, of course, we want to know why that is. And we also want to find out which other senses they use to orientate themselves.
What Is Color Blindness?
According to the National Eye Institute, one of the US National Institutes of Health, color blindness means that a person sees colors differently than most people. Color blindness can manifest itself in a number of ways. There can be limitations in noticing:
- Differences between colors
- Brightness of colors
- Different shades of colors
Since color blindness is defined as a deviation from normal human color vision, many animals have some type of color blindness. For many animals, a different way of seeing or a different color spectrum is simply more important.
Imagine living in the deepest darkness all the time. Good eyesight with the ability to recognize and distinguish many colors would not be very helpful there.
Why Are Hamsters Color Blind?
The retina in the eye is made up of 2 types of cells that affect the ability to see and the way you see. Rod cells are responsible for seeing in dim light or in poor light conditions. Cone cells affect the way we see colors. Humans have three types of cone cells for blue, green, and red light. Or more precisely, for short, medium, and long wavelength.
Hamsters, on the contrary, only have 1 or 2 cone cell types. One of these cone cell types has its peak sensitivity at around 500 nm, which corresponds to green or yellow light. Some hamsters, for example, the Siberian dwarf hamster, also have cone cells with sensitivity in the ultraviolet.
Animals with only 1 cone cell type are color blind. They can’t distinguish colors. Animals with 2 cone cell types – most mammals fall under that category – have something akin to red-green-blindness.
The number of cells is also very different in hamsters. They have about 97% rod cells but only about 3% cone cells. This makes them good night viewers, but it makes them unable to distinguish colors well. But for hamsters, this is the perfect setting for their eyes.
Can Hamsters See Well?
The eyes of hamsters are quite far apart. Therefore, their spatial vision is limited compared to us humans. As a result, they have difficulty estimating distances.
Hamsters only see sharply in their immediate surroundings. To put it simply, they are short-sighted.
On the other hand, they have a good all-around vision and can see a wide area around them. In this way, they can recognize enemies quickly.
Hamsters have more rod cells than humans and therefore have more light-sensitive eyes. So little light is enough for them to see well. a disadvantage is that their eyes are therefore somewhat sensitive to very bright light.
Do Hamsters Need to See Colors?
Hamsters are nocturnal creatures by nature. This makes perfect sense for them because it reduces the risk of being discovered and eaten by predators.
Hamsters aren’t the only nocturnal animals that can’t see colors well. The same is true, for example, of guinea pigs, an equally cute pet, but with some serious differences from hamsters. And also chinchillas have limitations in their color vision.
For nocturnal creatures, however, colors are not the most important thing. They need other skills to get through the night well and safely and to find food.
And of course, nature has arranged it so that hamsters have developed exactly the senses that they need. We will take a closer look at these senses in the next chapter.
This is also the reason why hamsters’ eyes are built differently than those of humans. Over a very long time, the hamster’s eyes have evolved to be optimized exactly for their way of life.
Since they are nocturnal, it is more important for them to be able to see well enough, even in low light, to detect danger and also to find their food. They are also supported in this by other senses. For example, they use their whiskers for orientation in the dark.
They do not have to enjoy the beautiful red color of strawberries or the fresh green of the grass to survive. Of course, it looks pretty to us humans, but it’s more important for the hamster to be able to find and secure its food.
Which Senses Work Particularly Well in Hamsters?
As we saw in the chapter above, hamsters do well with night vision. But they also have other senses that work particularly well. Their sense of smell, hearing, and touch are quite well developed.
his compensates for their color blindness and is simply beneficial to their lifestyle.
Hamsters’ Sense of Smell
Hamsters have scent glands, with which they can leave a scent trail when they rub their flanks against something. By this, they mark their territories and even their partners and babies. Other hamsters can then smell that scent and find out about that hamster.
Hamsters can even use their sense of smell to distinguish between sexes. They can also locate food and find out if it is edible by smelling it.
Mother hamsters are able to distinguish between their own babies and foreign babies using their sense of smell. This is also something that hamsters do not have exclusively. Many animals use their sense of smell to recognize their offspring.
This is why it is usually not advisable to touch the offspring of wild animals. This can change their smell in such a way that the parent animals no longer accept their offspring and the offspring has no chance of survival. So if a wild fawn ever crosses your path, better not touch it. You will be doing the animal a great favor.
Another sense that works well with hamsters is hearing. Hamsters can hear very well when they have their ears upright. And as long as they are awake, they keep their ears upright like two radar dishes. Only when they are sleeping do they relax their ears. And that’s probably a good idea so that they don’t get distracted by sounds while they sleep.
Hamsters are able to learn sounds. A hamster can learn the sound of food and also the typical sound of its owner. They can even learn the typical sound of the kitchen cupboard where their food is stored. When they have learned the sound and then hear it, it could put them in anticipation of their next meal.
Hamsters are very sensitive to high-frequency sounds. They even use ultrasonic sounds to communicate with other hamsters. Both female and male hamsters, infants, and adults use ultrasound to communicate.
These sounds, while quite chaotic, can contain information about the hamster’s sex, identity, and condition. In adult hamsters, the sounds are thought to be used to attract opposite-sex conspecifics.
Hamsters have long whiskers above their nose. These whiskers, also called vibrissae, serve the hamster as a sense of touch. With them, they can recognize the nature of their surroundings and even orient themselves in the dark.
Hamsters can recognize obstacles and learn whether they can pass through or must avoid them using their whiskers. But a hamster can also perceive movements in close proximity with them, even when it is absolutely dark.
Hamsters Are Color Blind
If you take humans as a yardstick, hamsters are indeed color blind. On the other hand, they can orientate themselves pretty well in the dark. Some can even sense ultraviolet light.
Hamsters also have other sensory organs that are better developed than humans. This affects their hearing, smell, and touch, for which they have very sensitive whiskers. These senses are simply more important for their lifestyle being nocturnal animals.
So we don’t have to pity hamsters for being colorblind in some way. They are simply well adapted for their way of life.