Do hamsters & mice know they aren't actually getting anywhere when they run in a wheel?

This has bothered me forever. Sometimes my when I try to grab my mice they jump in their wheel and run for their lives. So I wonder if, in general, when they run in it, do they think they are getting some where? Or do they realize it’s just for fun or helping to relieve their anxiety?

My guess: When threatened, instinct tells them to move their little legs as fast as possible. They probably aren’t linking the concepts that fast moving legs equates to distance traveled away from danger which results in safety. They’re just moving those damn little feet as fast as they can. Since they’ve grown accustomed to doing that on the wheel, they just automatically go there when the running instinct kicks in.

Greetings. This is my first acton in straightdope forums as I just registered tonight. This one seemed safe enough to get my toes wet.
As a kid, I raised rats & mice to sell back to pet stores; also had every other critter possible at one point or other. I’m going to make a quick guess here that aside from that wheel there is probably a water bottle and a simple shelter (paper towel roll, cardboard box, etc…) and maybe a food bowl, if you bother with one, in the cage or screened aquarium the rodent resides in. You may have noticed as I did that catching that little sucker in the wheel is harder than grasping it in a corner or in its box. So did it. Also, even when cornered and your hand is closing as you catch it in a corner, its legs keep moving while they can; even if you lift it by the tail. The wheel is as good an option of somewhere to run as it has. Wherever it runs, it will keep running if it can. To answer your question straightly IMO: they ain’t that stupid; they just can’t do much else.

Well, we humans keep putting on the monkey suit every day, and driving for an hour to sit in a cubicle and talk to a computer, and do it over and over even though we’re not getting anywhere, and we’re supposedly much smarter than mice, so my guess would be…no.

if people use treadmills for exercise then why can’t they.

So you’re saying hamsters only do it to keep weight off?

Why do you think we call it the Rat Race?

The problem with the rat race is: even if you win, you’re still a rat. :slight_smile:

[Bolding Mine]

You need to talk to the people who told you to sit in the cubicle. They are supposed to give you a paycheck (reward) for your effort.

And at the very least hide your red stapler.


When I had hamsters as a kid, I studied them as they ran in their wheel. I noticed that the dumb ones would just run for a period of time, then get out. The smarter male hamsters would stop, check their map, then continue. The smarter female hamsters would stop and ask directions.

Welcome! :smiley:

I see a business opportunity here, GPS for hamsters.

I’d say they just enjoy it. Dogs enjoy running in a wheel, why not hamsters?

I’m wondering just how anyone could ascertain that a hamster or a mouse knows something like that. Consequently, I’m wondering how someone here could answer that question.

Ah, but the “reward” is like the pellets you give a hamster: it’s juuuuuuust enough to keep you alive and functional, and to pay for the maintenance of the monkey suit and the transportation to get you from your burrow to your cage and back each day.

So you never get anywhere, in the sense that you never can save anything and each day, you wind up in the same cubicle, running on the same wheel.

Yes, I’m heinously mixing the two metaphors.

I suspect the rat, though, runs out of boredom more than anything else. This could be empirically tested by giving rats tiny little remotes and 120 channels of cable TV (with premium channels, of course). NOW let’s see how long they run on that frickin’ wheel.

They’re pretending to fly.

By testing response under different conditions. If a rodent runs on the wheel in response to a threat of predation, it’s pretty evident that it thinks it’s getting somewhere, because otherwise the response makes no sense. So the OP may have answered his/her own question.

That would only illustrate running as a fear response, wouldn’t it? It doesn’t answer the question of whether the hamster knows it’s not getting anywhere in the absence of a threat.

I could imagine more tests. For example, if rodents run more when their cage is empty of food, then they (probably) think they’re moving somewhere to where they might find food. Conversely, if they slacken running after long periods of time with the same cage/wheel, that might indicate that they have figured out they aren’t getting anywhere.

Mind you, I have no idea whether anyone has run any of these tests. But I do think there are ways to get inside the rodent mind.

I think that in the OP scenario, the question does refer to a fear response. The approaching hand is a threat. Ya?