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What Function Do Hamsters’ Whiskers Serve?

Last Updated on: 2nd January 2024, 09:49 pm

Whiskers are more than just a distinct characteristic of hamsters’ faces. Like cheek pouches, hamsters’ whiskers serve several vital purposes for survival.

Even in captivity, hamsters’ whiskers play an essential role. Their whiskers help them navigate their surroundings, detect impending dangers, and smell better.

If you look closely enough, their whiskers may explain how hamsters feel.

Hamster Whiskers Explained

Hamster whiskers, also known as vibrissae, may seem insignificant. However, they’re essential because they act as another sense for hamsters.

Even though hamsters can see, hear, and smell, the extra sense their whiskers give them can be the difference between life and death in the wild.

Here, you’ll learn what whiskers do for hamsters, how their whiskers enable them to find food, explore, and navigate, and why they’re so crucial for their survival.

Do All Hamsters Have Whiskers?

Five types of hamsters are most often kept as pets, including the following:

  • Syrian hamsters (also known as golden hamsters and teddy bear hamsters).
  • Dwarf Roborovski hamsters (also known as desert hamsters, Robo dwarf hamsters, or dwarf hamsters).
  • Winter white hamsters (also called Russian dwarf hamsters, Djungarian hamsters, striped dwarf hamsters, Siberian hamsters, or Siberian dwarf hamsters).
  • Campbell’s dwarf hamsters (also known as striped hairy-footed hamsters, Djungarian hamsters, Siberian hamsters, and Campbell’s hamsters).
  • Chinese Hamsters (also known as Chinese striped hamsters or Chinese dwarf hamsters).

One of the things all hamsters have in common is whiskers, but they all have different whisker lengths. For example, Syrian hamsters have longer, thicker whiskers than dwarf hamsters.

why do hamsters have whiskers?

What Are Hamster’s Whiskers For?

Hamsters’ whiskers give them an additional sense.

While they can touch things with their paws and see things with their eyes, their whiskers are useful when roaming around in the dark or moving quickly.

Guiding Navigation

Hamsters use their whiskers to help guide them when exploring, foraging for food, or running on their wheel. This extra sense their whiskers provide helps them, especially in the dark when visibility is limited.

The Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences stated that small mammals, like hamsters, use their whiskers to determine where to plant their feet as they move.

They use their whiskers to scan the area and feel for objects or obstacles like walls or trees. They know the path they’re traveling is safe if their front paws land within the ground contact zone of the whisker field.

They keep the distance between their front paws shorter than the width of their whisker span because if their whiskers aren’t hitting anything, neither should their paws.

Balance

Because their whiskers extend to the sides and past their bodies, hamsters can stay steady and avoid falling over.

Sense of Smell

Hamsters’ sense of smell is strong, but their whiskers work with their olfactory senses to pick up smells.

Show Emotion

If you watch a hamster closely, you can pick up clues about its mood by the position of the whiskers.  

Why Do Hamsters Have Whiskers?

Hamsters’ whiskers guide them as they forage for food, alert them to dangers like obstacles or predators, and enhance their sense of smell.

However, hamsters still use their whiskers when in captivity. They rely on their whiskers to determine where to go because they’re most active at night and have poor eyesight.

Their whiskers act as sensors, are very sensitive, and extend out to the sides, which aids them as they’re walking or running. The whiskers will brush against anything in the way, like trees and walls.

Hamsters use a whisking motion to identify objects or threats and guide them on their path.

How Many Whiskers Do Hamsters Have?

Hamsters have whiskers on both sides of their face and above each eyebrow. The number of whiskers hamsters have varies based on hamster species.

It also varies depending on if a hamster has lost any whiskers that have not yet regrown.

Why Are My Hamster’s Whiskers So Long?

Hamsters’ whiskers are long because they use them to feel for things in the dark. Their whiskers are usually as long as the length of their bodies from head to behind.

This length allows them to maneuver through the dark without running into things.

Can Hamsters Rotate Whiskers?

Hamsters can rotate their whiskers back and forth at high speeds, also described as vibrating their whiskers, which helps them search for obstacles in the dark. This movement pattern is called “whisking.”

According to the Journal of Zoology, when hamsters are resting, their whiskers are reclined and motionless.

Their whiskers remain motionless but partially or fully erect when they’re on alert. When actively searching for things, their whiskers “whisk” or “sweep” through their surroundings.

Hamsters can vibrate their whiskers up to 30 times per second.

do all hamsters have whiskers?

What Happens if Your Hamster Loses Whiskers?

A hamster can become disoriented, stumble, and fall over if it loses whiskers, so it’ll have difficulty navigating its surroundings.

Whiskers give hamsters balance and guide them where they need to go. Without whiskers, they’d essentially be lost and unable to get around.

Why You Shouldn’t Cut a Hamster’s Whiskers

Don’t cut a hamster’s whiskers. Because hamsters use their whiskers to survive, not having whiskers or ones too short can endanger them.

Hamsters’ whiskers consist of keratin, a natural protein that human nails and hair are composed of. Consequently, their whiskers have no pain receptors.

Although hamsters won’t feel pain if you cut their whiskers, they’ll experience a loss of orientation, balance, and spatial awareness, leaving them stressed and disorientated.

Do Hamsters Grow Whiskers Back?

Hamster’s whiskers will grow back within 2-3 months. However, living without whiskers is life-inhibiting for hamsters, so you should never cut them.

Although cutting your hamster’s whiskers isn’t recommended, it’s normal for hamsters to occasionally lose or shed their whiskers due to damage, stress, and old age.

If the hamster is losing some of its whiskers, it isn’t a cause for concern unless it’s losing a lot of them all at once or they’re not growing back. This would suggest improper care or a nutritional deficiency.