Are Hamsters Color Blind? (Important Facts)

By Dawn | Hamster Facts
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I was wondering the other day what our hamster Richmond could actually see and whether or not he could see colors.  So, I decided to research it and write a helpful post on it.

Are hamsters color blind?  Yes, hamsters are color blind because their eyes contain more than 97% rod cells and just 3% cone cells.  Despite being color blind, hamsters don’t see in black and white but they can only see colors in the green part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

There are good reasons why hamsters have evolved to have such eyesight which we’ll delve into later in the article.  Also, understanding your hamster’s eyesight in a bit more detail will help you to understand why they can sometimes be a little timid and even bite their owners from time to time!

What is color blindness?

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, color blindness, also known as color deficiency, is when eyes are either unable to see colors properly or can’t distinguish between certain colors.

Color blindness results when:

  • One or more cone cells become damaged
  • Cone cells are absent
  • Cone cells detect a different color than they were intended to

Cone cells are photoreceptor cells, of which there are three types: red, green and blue.  These are responsible for color detection and respond differently depending on what wavelength of light shines on them.  These types of cells also respond better in bright light. 

Rod cells on the other hand, respond in the opposite way.  They are more sensitive than cone cells and are primarily responsible for night vision.

Why hamsters are color blind

The reason that hamsters are color blind comes down to the number of rod cells and cone cells that are contained within their retina.

According to the study, Populations of Rod and Cone Photoreceptors in the Hamster Retina, hamsters retinas contain approximately 97% rods and just 3% cones.  This population density of rods and cones is also similar to that of a mouse.

Because hamsters have a significant percentage of rods compared to cones, they are considered to be color blind as they are blind to most colors.

Hamsters can see some colors

Color-blindness doesn’t necessarily mean that things appear in black and white.  Hamsters do have some cone cells, so it does mean that they’re able to see some colors.  

According to this study, Syrian hamsters see in the green range of the electromagnetic spectrum, whilst Siberian hamsters see in the blue and UV part.

In other words Syrian hamsters, will see everything in shades of green and won’t be able to see any other colors.

Hamsters are near-sighted

Not only are hamsters color blind, they’re near-sighted too, meaning that they don’t have a very good sense of distance.  

They can see things that are directly in front of their face, but they can’t see very far into the distance.

Hamsters don’t judge heights very well either, so they’ll happily walk off ledges without realizing how far they will fall.  That’s why it’s important that when you’re holding your hamster that you do so from a safe height in case they jump.  That way, they won’t have very far to fall.

It’s also advisable that you don’t place the platforms in your hamster’s cage too high for the same reasons.

A hamster’s eyesight works best at night

Hamsters alternate between being completely nocturnal to crepuscular which means that they are most active around the hours of dawn and dusk when there is very little natural light.

Outside of these hours they spend most of their time in their burrows, either sleeping, eating or arranging their nests.  The burrows include rooms that they dig out for themselves underneath the ground and are connected by networks of tunnels which they can access from above ground.

As such, hamsters have eyesight that has evolved to work best at night because that is when there are fewer of their predators about.  It’s very rare for a wild hamster to venture above ground during the daytime.

Although hamster retinas don’t have many cone receptors, they do have a lot of rod receptors.  More rod receptors mean that more light is absorbed into the retina and that means hamsters are able to see much better in the dark than humans can.

Hamsters do need some light in order to see however.  Low-light conditions such as a dawn or dusk are ideal for hamsters, however in pitch black darkness, hamsters will be unable to see much.

Hamster burrows in particular are very dark spaces, and so they mainly use their excellent sense of smell and their memory to navigate around.

Hamsters can still see you

Although hamsters are color blind and near sighted, they can still see things, just not from a distance.  Hamsters will be able to see their owners when they’re up close to the cage but they mostly rely on their hearing and sense of smell.

Whenever you go to pick up your hamster and put your hand inside their cage, it’s advisable to let them know of your presence.  If you talk to them in a soft voice, they will recognise you and realize that you’re not a threat.  

Likewise, when you’re about to pick them up, let them see and smell your hand before doing so as this will prevent your hamster from being startled.  

Hamsters tend only to bite when they’re frightened or mistake your finger for food (because of their bad eyesight), so make sure that you wash your hands before handling your hamster.

Related questions

Can hamsters see red? 

No hamsters cannot see red.  Syrian hamsters see in shades of green and the Siberian hamster sees in the blue and UV part of the spectrum.

Do hamsters have a good sense of smell? 

Yes, hamsters have an excellent sense of smell which helps them to recognize other hamsters by scent.  They also use their sense of smell to navigate back to their burrows at night.  In captivity, hamsters use their sense of smell to recognize their owners.