eye chart

Hamster Eyesight – How Well Can They See

Hamsters are classified as small rodents and are a very common pet. These cute little animals usually have large, round, dark eyes, which often appear bright and shiny.

In the wild, hamsters tend to live in underground burrows, where they build nests. Generally, they are nocturnal creatures, sleeping during the day and are more active at night when they search for food. If you own a hamster, you might already know they are nocturnal because you often hear your little friend running on his wheel or around his cage at night time. But what about their eyesight? And can they see in the dark?

Generally, hamsters have a reputation for having bad eyesight, but is it actually true? And can they see colors? In this article, we will answer all these questions and put all the myths to rest! We will also discover how hamster’s eyes work and how well they can actually see during the day and night.

How Their Eyes Work

Hamster vision

The overall structure and function of a hamster’s eye is similar to other mammals, like us humans or even dogs.

Hamsters have large eyes, for their small size, to maximize the amount of light entering their eyes. A fun fact is that a hamster’s eye is approximately 2.5 times bigger than that of a mouse.

Now let’s find out how their eyes actually work…

  1. Light passes through the front surface of the eye, a transparent protective lining called the
  2. It then goes through the pupil, a circular opening which controls the amount of light entering the eye. It can expand in dark lighting and becomes smaller in bright light.
  3. Next, the light passes through the lens, which helps to focus the light.
  4. Finally, the light hits the retina, at the back of the eye. The retina is the layer of light receptor cells at the very back of the eye.
  5. These receptors transfer the light, into an electrical message, which travels to the brain via the optic nerve. The brain processes the images and allows the hamster to see.

That is a pretty cool process, right!? But, do hamsters have good eyesight? And can they see in the dark? Let’s find out a bit more information about how well they can see.

How Far Can Hamsters See

hamster looking out of cage

Hamsters are nearsighted. This means they can see things close to their face, but cannot see things far away. Hamsters can only really see a few inches in front of their face.
In human eyes, the lens can change shape to help focus the light, and allow us to see objects at different distances. Hamsters have quite a rigid lens, which can’t change shape much or focus light very well. Therefore, they cannot see objects which are more than a few inches in front of their face.

So, it is true that they have poor eyesight. However, they make up for this by using their whiskers to help “feel” things around them. They also rely on their senses of hearing and smell, which are better developed than their eyesight, to help them sense danger and move around.

Can Hamsters See Well in Daylight?

Firstly, it is important to understand that the retina, the layer at the back of the eye, contains two types of light receptor cells: the rods and the cones.

  • The rods are important for vision in dim light and at night.
  • The cones are important for vision in bright light, during the day AND for color vision.

All animals have rods and cones, but they are present in different amounts. Animals that are more active at night, have more rod cells.

A hamster’s retina contains approximately 97% rods and 3% cones.

As they have a low level of cone cells, which are responsible for sight in bright light, they have poor vision during the day. Hence, why they are much more active at night. Cones are also responsible for color vision and the general sharpness of images seen, therefore hamsters have quite blurry eyesight.

Can Hamsters See in The Dark?

Hamsters have a large number of rod cells in their retinas, which are important for vision in low lighting. This is why they are adapted to be more active at night when they can search for their food.

However, they can’t see in complete darkness. They need at least a little bit of light to be able to see. They can see with the most accuracy during dawn and dusk when there are low light conditions.

Early morning sight

Are Hamsters Color Blind?

The cone cells in the retina are important for vision in bright light and for color vision. The cone cells also contain light-sensitive pigments called opsins, which can pick up different wavelengths or colors of light. We already know that hamsters have a low level of cone cells and therefore have poor vision in the daytime.

Generally, hamsters are thought to be color blind. Studies with Syrian hamsters found their eyesight to be monochromatic, meaning they can’t differentiate between different colors. However, some studies with Siberian Hamsters have found that some hamsters were sensitive to blue and green light stimuli. Therefore, it is now believed that some hamsters may be able to very faintly see these colors!

Do Hamsters Blink?

Yes, hamsters do blink their eyes. They just do it very fast, so that it can be difficult to see sometimes. Amazingly, hamsters can blink one eye at a time if they want.

Blinking is an important function of the eye because:

    • It helps to spread tears across the eye, keeping the surface moist
    • It helps to remove unwanted irritants from the surface of the eye
    • It is a reflex to help protect the eye if something comes too close

Conclusion

To sum it up, hamsters do have poor vision. Therefore, they also have to rely on their whiskers, and sense of smell and hearing to help them get around.

Their retina has a very high number of rod cells and a low number of cone cells, which allows them to see better in dim light. This is why they are more active at night time. Although hamsters are traditionally thought to be color blind, studies are now indicating that some hamsters may be able to faintly see blue and green lights.

Now you know all about hamster’s eyes and their ability to see. This can also help you to understand their behavior a bit better. Their poor vision may explain why hamsters are easily startled if they are picked up too quickly or an object is moved towards them. Make your hamster’s life a little easier by turning off bright lights near his cage, and try not to startle him!

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