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Do Hamsters Have Opposable Thumbs?

Last Updated: 30.03.20


If you are looking for more hamster house ideas, you might want to better understand how these interesting creatures prefer spending their time, keeping busy and how they generally behave. Having an insight into their basic need requirements, but also their favorite activities might make your choice a much easier one. First, let’s take a closer look at these tiny and cute pets.

Hamsters are small sized rodents that like burrow during the day and are most active during the night. Since they are rodents, meaning they have continuously growing teeth, hamsters tend to constantly chew on every available item around them. They are nocturnal animals, and therefore, they seek shelter to hide and rest during the day when most of their natural predators are active.

In an attempt to mimic their natural environment, a thick layer of clean, comfortable bedding should always be provided to your pet hamster. Burrowing, hiding and digging are all natural behaviors that any pet hamster will express, ensuring a low-stress level and an emotional balance.

The bedding choice is of utmost importance to your tiny friend’s overall health and wellbeing. Since the bedding choice available on the market is quite extensive, there are some aspects any pet hamster owner should take into consideration before making the purchase. Any suitable hamster bedding should be comfortable, lightweight, and free of any sort of toxic substances.


A bit of hamster history

Records show they were domesticated and successfully bred in captivity somewhere in the early 1940s. Since then, hamsters have become very popular home pets, especially for children, due to their small size and easy care. Parents looking to teach their children about the responsibility of looking after a pet made hamsters one of their first choices.

There are close to 25 species of hamsters in the world, from the large European hamster measuring a staggering 13.4 inches to dwarf hamsters that grow to be up to 4 inches in length. The most common pet hamster is the Syrian hamster, measuring about 6 inches in length. The hamster’s size is closely linked to the conditions of the area it came from.

They way hamsters look and behave are a result of the way they have developed and evolved over time, in their wild habitats. Hamsters come from a wide variety of places on the planet, and each particular species is perfectly adapted to its wildlife environment. We will further take a closer look at some of these adaptation features.

Hamster features

Given that hamsters are rodents, they need to constantly chew on hard foods or other types of materials, such as wood, to maintain their constantly growing teeth at an optimum size. This means they need to hold on tight to a piece of material they can chew on. As a result, hamsters can stand on their back legs while feeding and chewing, as they hold their food in between their front paws.

Hamsters usually have four fingers in their front paws and five fingers in their back ones. Their front paws are strong enough to hold on to pieces of food or chewing material, but sensitive enough to enable them to gently care for their newborn babies.

Hamsters can only hold food in between their front paws and not in each paw individually. This is because they lack opposable thumbs. Only humans and some primates, such as chimpanzees, have opposable thumbs.

Another well-known habit hamsters have is digging and burrowing. Since they are nocturnal animals, hamsters like staying hidden during the day, for both protection reasons and rest time. Being nocturnal animals is yet another adaptation to their natural environment since hamsters sleep during the day when most of their natural predators are active and in search of food.

Moreover, hamsters feed on nuts, seeds, fruits, and small insects, that are also available during the night. Being nocturnal animals enhances their chance of surviving out in the wild. Having an opposable thumb would only have come in the way of their burrowing habit because opposable thumbs are designed for grasping and not for digging.


More information on hamsters

Most hamsters have very poor eyesight, because, in the wild, they do not need to see very far away. However, they do have a very sensitive smell and accurate hearing since in their natural habitat hamsters need to hear any potential predator approaching and they need to smell their food from a long distance.

They also have large pouches in their cheeks enabling them to carry large amounts of food back to their burrow, this way ensuring less exposure to possible threats. The less they travel across large open areas, the higher the chance they will live to see the next day. This feature is also useful when the hamster babies have grown up and they eat more and more food every day.

The average hamster will live for up to three years – this means they do not have a long lifespan. Since they don’t live for long, hamsters have adapted accordingly by making a lot of babies throughout their short lives. This is Mother Nature’s way of making sure the species does survive the test of time. This is mainly a case of making as many babies as you can so that at least some of them will survive to carry on the genes of the species.

Hamsters reach sexual maturity at around 2 months old. From this age on, female hamsters will start breeding and will continue to do so for the rest of her life. The average hamster litter consists of one to twelve babies, and a mother hamster can give birth almost every month. This means a lot of babies per year, but given that not all of them reach adulthood, having a lot of babies ensures the survival of the species through the surviving one.

In captivity, pet hamsters totally rely on the care and living conditions provided by their owner. Over time, this has translated into longer lifespans, mainly due to the high-quality food provided to them and, also, the total lack of any potential predators.

This fact also translated into litters of fewer babies. The average female pet hamster will give birth to a litter of one to eight babies, as opposed to a maximum of twelve babies in the wild.

Why hamsters do not have opposable thumbs

Basically, hamsters do not have opposable thumbs because they do not need them. They can very well hold their food using both their paws. This feature also helps them keep their balance while feeding.

Taking into consideration how small they are, as well as the fact that they mostly eat seeds and nuts, it becomes obvious that most of their food is quite large compared to their size. Therefore, holding a piece of food in one paw only would be very hard for them.

Also, they have a very strong digging and burrowing habit. This is an activity they do on a daily basis, multiple times per day. Having an opposable thumb would only be in the way of that habit. Not to mention how often that thumb would get injured in the digging process.

If we are to take a closer look at the animals that do have opposable thumbs, none of them have digging habits quite as hamsters do. Moreover, in their natural habitat, hamsters do not climb tall trees looking for food on their branches.

Some of the animals that spend a lot of time up in trees, that benefit from spending a large portion of the day searching for food on tall branches have opposable thumbs since it helps them have a better grip of the tree branches. Given that hamsters spend most of their time on the ground, foraging on the ground floor, they, yet again, do not need opposable thumbs.




Irina Ionescu

As a long-term learner and animal lover, Irina helps her readers find the best products and accessories for their pets, as well as the latest training techniques, tips & tricks on how to handle animals.

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