If you’ve ever seen a hamster stuff its cheeks with food until they bulge, it’ll come as no surprise that the rodent got its name from the German word “hamstern,” which means “to hoard.”
The most common pet hamsters are Syrian or golden hamsters, and these small rodents are capable of carrying half their body size in food.
How does such a tiny animal accomplish such a massive feat?
All those seeds, fruits and veggies disappear into the hamster’s cheek pouches, which are incredibly stretchy and reach all the way to the animal’s hips.
These pouches are lined with rough skin that helps hold the items in place. To keep the food fresh and dry, the hamster secretes no saliva.
Hamsters use these built-in food storage containers to transport food and nesting material — and sometimes even their babies — from one place to another.
Recently, BBC’s “Pets – Wild at Heart” series gave viewers an inside look at the Syrian hamster’s impressive cheeks.
When selecting the perfect rodent for the job, producer Philip Dalton said that one in particular stood out from the crowd.
“He was stuffing his cheeks in great haste as his cheeks stretched down the side of his body,” he wrote. “He doubled in size before my eyes. The behavior was visually funny and intriguing, so immediately I wanted to learn more about how those cheeks worked.”
Using low-dose X-rays, a high-speed camera and special lenses, the crew filmed the hamster as he stuffed his cheeks full of nuts and veggies at a veterinary hospital.
This X-rays shows how a hamster's cheek pouches extend all the way to its hips. (Photo: BBC/YouTube)
Dalton planned to find the furry little TV star a good home once filming was complete, but that home turned out to be Dalton’s.
“After spending so long with him, we were now the best of buddies and I became the proud owner of a hamster," he said.
Dalton’s sons named their new pet Hampy, and Hampy wasted no time befriending the rest of the family, including a German shepherd named Cooper.
How to keep your hamster’s cheeks healthy
If you have a pet hamster, be sure to provide the animal with wooden toys and hard treats to gnaw on so his teeth will be properly worn down and won’t disturb its cheeks.
If you notice that your pet’s cheeks protrude when he’s not hoarding food, he may have scraped the inside of them and developed an abscess or impacted cheek.
Such ailments must be drained and treated with antibiotics, so take your hamster to a veterinarian immediately.
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