The animal kingdom is full of boozers. From moose who hoof down fermented apples and get stuck in trees to garden squirrels getting hammered on gone-off pears, and, of course, those weird naked apes who drink until swallowing spiky catfish, shaking hands with a lion and joining your own search party seem like good ideas. There is another, however, who scores pretty highly on the mammalian crunk chart: Hamsters.
Popular as pets and common throughout the world, there are 19 species across seven genera in the subfamily Cricetinae, which contains all the hamsters. Throughout the course of scientific discovery, they’ve also become a common subject for scientific research, some of which directly centers around their affinity for alcohol.
In an enlightening thread shared on Twitter, Dr Tom Lawton, critical care consultant for the Bradford Institute for Health Research, touched on some of the drinking talents of the humble hamster.
“In conversation with @microlabdoc [Dr Christine Peters] earlier, I discovered that not everyone knows of the hamster's prodigious capacity for alcohol,” wrote Lawton. “They love it so much they prefer to drink 15% ethanol instead of water and can tolerate relative quantities that would kill a human.”
Sure enough, the science is there to crown hamsters Lab Booze Hounds. Research from 1960 revealed that while rats could be coaxed into drinking through genetic engineering or conditioning, hamsters will pretty much start lapping up the hard stuff the first opportunity they’re given.
Another paper from 1962 further supported hamsters’ preference for alcohol over drinking water, finding that most captive animals studied were getting around 88 percent of their liquid intake from the alcoholic option.
A likely explanation for this lies in the calorific content of alcohol, which isn’t too far off fat, making for chubbier hamsters to survive colder winters. It’s also possible that the hoarder lifestyle of hamsters plays a part, as collections of food may begin to ferment in their underground larders making hamsters no stranger to a potent libation.
What’s more, despite the incredible volume of alcohol hamsters can consume — the equivalent of an adult male consuming around 21 bottles of wine, says Lawton — they appear to have a pretty high tolerance. This was demonstrated in a 2015 paper that formulated a "Wobbling Scale" for measuring hamster intoxication.
The scale pretty much did what it said on the tin, using the hamsters’ increasingly wobbly nature to ascertain drunkenness until the wee rodents were falling on their sides and unable to get up again. No doubt a relatable state during this weird haze that falls between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Their impressive tolerance for alcohol is down to hamsters’ sizable and highly efficient livers, which can filter out alcohol and reduce the amount that winds up circulating in the blood. This was demonstrated when ethanol was injected directly into hamsters' bloodstream, bypassing the liver and leading to behavior that was off the Wobbling Scale charts.
There are already many synonyms for drinking and being drunk, but perhaps getting utterly hamstered should be one of them.
[H/T: The Atlantic]