Adult Female Hamsters Avoid Interspecific Mating After Exposure to Heterospecific Males

Document Type


Publication Title

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

Publication Date



heterospecific, interspecific mating, species discrimination, learning, lordosis, aggression


When females mate with a heterospecific male, they do not usually produce viable offspring. Thus, there is a selective pressure for females to avoid interspecific mating. In many species, females innately avoid heterospecific males; females can also imprint on their parents to avoid later sexual interactions with heterospecific males. However, it was previously unknown whether adult females can learn to discriminate against heterospecific males. We tested the hypothesis that adult females previously unable to avoid interspecific mating learn to avoid such mating after being exposed to heterospecific males. Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) females not previously exposed to Turkish hamster (Mesocricetus brandti) males can discriminate between odors of conspecific and heterospecific males, but they mate with either type of male. However, when we exposed adult females to both a conspecific male and a heterospecific male through wire-mesh barriers for 8 days, and then paired them sequentially with the two males, females were more receptive to conspecific males and more aggressive to heterospecific males. When females were paired with the heterospecific male first and the conspecific male second, no female was receptive and all were aggressive to heterospecific males. When females were paired with the conspecific male first, only 43% of females were then aggressive toward the heterospecific male. That is, interactions with conspecific males may decrease a female’s ability to properly avoid heterospecific males. Our study clearly shows for the first time that females can learn during adulthood to avoid interspecific mating just by being exposed to stimuli from heterospecific males.

Funding Source

This work was supported by NIMH grant NIMH 5 R01 MHO58001-08 to R. E. Johnston.


This article was originally published as delBarco-Trillo, J., McPhee, M.E. and Johnston, R.E. (2010) Adult female hamsters avoid interspecific mating after exposure to heterospecific males. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 64: 1247-1253.