How Hamsters Can Stuff So Much Food In Their Cheeks

Hamsters can stuff their cheeks with up to 20% of their body weight. Most of the time, they fill their cheeks with food, but sometimes mother hamsters store their babies in their cheeks for protection. Hamster cheeks contain pouches that resemble small deflated balloons. As food enters, the pouch expands and retractor muscles squeeze the pouch and pull food back. 

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Following is the transcript of the video:

How is it doing that?!! Hamsters, like Soda Pop, can stuff up to 20% of their body weight into their cheeks. For comparison, that’s like the average person carrying around 30 extra pounds of food—or about 120 quarter pounders. It would be a cool party trick, but not very comfortable…or, let’s face it, even possible.

That’s where hamsters are different. But they don’t stuff their faces for parties … or even because they’re hungry. They do it to survive.

In the wild—yes, there are actually wild hamsters—they eat all kinds of food—leaves, shoots, veggies, and fruit. What they don’t consume right away, they store in those cheeks, which have pouches that extend halfway down their body and expand like a balloon. Thank goodness we don’t have anything like that because it would probably look a little strange.

But hamsters NEED to stuff their faces, no matter how goofy it might look. In fact, they have to eat around every 2 hours to function normally. But foraging for food this frequently would make them easy prey. Instead, they collect food at night, and what they don’t store they snack on along the way.

So during the day they can hide from predators and munch on their hoard in safety. And, thanks to the pouches in their cheeks that stockpile can get enormous. Hamster burrows have been found with nearly 200 lbs of stored food!

These cheeks also come with special retractor muscles that help the hamster stuff itself to maximum capacity. If you ever watch this in action you may notice that it reorients the food after plopping it in its mouth. What it’s actually doing is angling the food so it easily slips to the back of the pouch as more comes in. Once the food is well on its way—that’s when the retractor muscles come into play. When the pouch stretches, the muscles contract which pushes the food toward the back, preventing it from clogging up. Pretty impressive stuff!

But that’s not as impressive as some of the other things hamsters can do with their cheeks. For starters, some species will hide their babies inside these pouches to keep them safe. And there are reports that others can inflate their pouches with air and use it as a flotation device for swimming! But DON’T try this at home. Only certain wild species do this, and we don’t want you to drown your poor hamster. We’d rather have you sit and enjoy the incredible cuteness of Soda Pop.

Fun fact: Hamsters can run over 5 miles in a 24 hour period.

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