Adult Female Hamsters Require Long and Sustained Exposures to Heterospecific Males to Avoid Interspecific Mating

Document Type


Publication Title

Evolutionary Ecology

Publication Date



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


Interspecific mating normally decreases female fitness. In many species, females avoid heterospecific males innately or by imprinting on their parents. Alternatively, adult females could learn to discriminate against heterospecific males after exposure to such males. For example, Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) females learn to discriminate between conspecific males and Turkish hamster (M. brandti) males during adulthood by exposure to males of both species. Adult females not previously exposed to Turkish hamster males will mate similarly with conspecific and heterospecific males. However, in a previous study we showed that exposure to a heterospecific male and a conspecific male for 8 days led to mating avoidance and aggression towards the heterospecific male. Here we conducted two experiments to investigate how much exposure to the heterospecific male was required for females to avoid mating with the heterospecific male (Experiment 1) and how long that avoidance lasted in the absence of continuous exposure to heterospecific stimuli (Experiment 2). Fast and durable learning would indicate the evolution of an efficient avoidance response. In Experiment 1, females were exposed to a heterospecific male for 1, 4 h, 4 or 8 days and then paired with that male. We found more avoidance of interspecific mating after 4 or 8 days of exposure than after 1 or 4 h of exposure. In Experiment 2, females were exposed to a heterospecific male for 8 days and then paired with that male either 10 min later or 8 days later. We found that after an 8-day delay females were highly sexually receptive to the heterospecific male. Additionally, a comparison between the current experiments and a previous study indicates that female Syrian hamsters do not require concurrent exposure to a conspecific male and a heterospecific male to learn to avoid interspecific mating; exposure to a heterospecific male is sufficient.

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. and Johnston, R.E. (2011) Adult female hamsters require long and sustained exposures to heterospecific males to avoid interspecific mating. Evolutionary Ecology. 25: 391-401.