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The Family Group in Golden Hamsters: Its Formation and Break-Up

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image of Behaviour

I. Behaviour of the golden hamster during normal parturition is described. 2. This is compared with behaviour of mothers who did not rear their litters because of faulty response to suckling attempts by the pups. Absence of milk at the nipples is suggested as a cause for this unwillingness to nurse. 3. Pups which are not born in the nest are often abandoned. 4. Pups born dead are often treated as food, but live pups are not eaten until after parturition is over. 5. Litters do not form into the characteristic compact unit until they have fed and been brooded. 6. Three stages in family break-up are recognised: (i) At about twentyfive days the mother begins to wean her litter, stops rebuilding the old nest, and may build a smaller one elsewhere. It is possible she would normally leave her litter at this point. (ii) During their fifth week the pups stop trying to suckle and showing contact behaviour ; they begin to sleep in small groups, and seem to try to escape from the mother's cage. At this time the mother attacks them occasionally. (iii) With sexual maturity of the females (six weeks) play-fighting stops, and marking was not seen. If a female becomes pregnant she becomes dominant in a few days, but does not dare fight the mother. 7. It is likely that the third stage is an artefact of captivity and that the litter would be left by the mother in stage (i) and would largely disperse during stage (ii) in natural conditions. 8. The interpretations of observations described are necessarily tentative, and need experimental tests before they can be accepted.

Affiliations: 1: (Madingley Field Station for Animal Behaviour, Cambridge


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