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There’s An Animal Called The Syrian Hamster. It Loves Booze.

Drinking your Syrian hamster under the table. It's not something I recommend. Here's why.

In His Cups

In His Cups | Photo by Marina Avila via Flickr/Creative Commons

At the end of summer, this little guy (whose name in Arabic apparently means “father of saddlebags”) grabs up all the fallen fruit it can find, and buries it in the ground.

Later, in the lean times of late fall and winter, when the hungry hamster returns to the cache, it finds lightly boozy, fermented fruit. Fruit cocktail, you might say.

Golden Hamster

Golden Hamster

Over time, the Syrian hamster (a.k.a. Golden hamster) acquired quite a taste for alcohol. And to cope, it evolved an enormous liver, a necessary bit of machinery if it is to metabolize all that alcohol.

It’s not a joke. If a hamster’s internal organs were scaled to a human’s, the hamster’s liver would be 5 times larger than your normal-size liver. My puny, overworked liver stands in awe.

Top 5 Syrian Hamster Cocktails

Full disclosure: I consulted no small rodents in compiling this list. I went purely on instinct here and an assumption that a Syrian hamster would lean heavily (and probably drunkenly) toward fruity cocktails that employ a neutral alcohol like vodka. Go ahead, make it a double.

  1. Wallaby Darned
  2. Suicide Smoothie
  3. Passion Punch
  4. Blueberry Vodka Martinis
  5. Berry Cordial

But Syrian hamsters don’t drink alone. Treeshrews, for example, share a taste for the sauce with their mammalian cousins.

Treeshrew

Photo By Paul J. Morris, via Wikimedia Commons

Treeshrews gorge on the fermented nectar of palm tree flowers. And they can really knock 'em back. Scientific American explains that they consume “the equivalent of 10-12 glasses of wine every day without obvious signs of intoxication.” So shrewd. And they do it, presumably, without a giant liver. For the tree shrew, an enzyme helps digest the alcohol. Different evolutionary strokes for different folks.

But What About Us Humans?

We humans are not so unlike our adorable rodent friends. Like them, our primate ancestors also developed the ability to digest the alcohol in fermented fruit that fell from trees. This genetic change happened some 10 million years ago to a common ancestor we shared with chimpanzees and gorillas. The genetic change involved the activation of enzymes that allowed us to eat, and tolerate, the funky fermented fruit. Critically it gave us access to foods that other animals that couldn't tolerate alcohol were unable to eat. It was an advantage.

But here's the bad news: hangovers. In digesting alcohol, these enzymes convert the alcohol to acetaldehyde, a chemical that, with overindulgence, can cause the grim sensations we call hangovers. Of course, hangovers weren't an issue way back in the day. Out among the trees, we evolved to eat the occasional stray piece of fermented fruit. Several imperial pints and a couple shots of whiskey? Well, that just wasn't part of the bargain.

And now, about those hangovers. Is there a cure? Probably not. But maybe.

About Carl Hanson

Carl will eat that. Share with him @CarlNo9 on Twitter.