Can Captivity Lead to Inter-Species Mating in Two Mesocricetus Hamster Species?

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Journal of Zoology

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In two closely related species, females generally prefer conspecific males over heterospecific males. We found that estrous (but not diestrous) female Syrian hamsters Mesocricetus auratus prefer the odors of conspecific males to odors of Turkish hamsters Mesocricetus brandti. However, female Syrian hamsters are not aggressive toward male Turkish hamsters and will readily mate with them. We hypothesize that many generations in captivity led to a reduction in females' ability to avoid inter-species mating, possibly related to the heightened sexual receptivity observed in Mesocricetus hamsters in captivity. To test this hypothesis, we replicated a study carried out with female Turkish hamsters soon after the current laboratory stock of this species was established. In that study, female Turkish hamsters showed lordosis toward male Syrian hamsters in only 20% of interactions and attacked heterospecific males in 80% of the pairings. Using animals descended from that original colony (after many generations in captivity and certain episodes of inbreeding), 100% of female Turkish hamsters mated with heterospecific males and none showed aggression toward heterospecific males. Thus female avoidance of inter-specific mating may be affected by captive rearing conditions.


This article was originally published as delBarco-Trillo, J., Gulewicz, K., Segal, A., McPhee, M.E. and Johnston, R.E. (2009) Can captivity lead to inter-species mating in two Mesocricetus hamster species? Journal of Zoology. 278: 308-312.