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The Ontogeny of Predatory Behaviour in the Golden Hamster (Mesocricetus a. Auratus)

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The study set out to examine the ontogeny of the predatory response in golden hamsters (M. a. auratus) towards nymphs of Locusta migratoria. Qualitative and quantitative observations were reported. Qualitative observations showed that ambivalence characterized the behaviour of a naive hamster during the initial encounters with prey. Repeated bouts of prey exploration followed by rapid withdrawal occurred. Eventually with repeated prey presentations ambivalence waned and capture was attempted by nipping, seizing and grasping with the forepaws. Occasionally the prey was pouched after capture or 'carried' for a short duration. Consumption of the prey following capture invariably occurred. Quantitative data was collected from four age groups ranging from 30 to 90 days of age. The basic methodology consisted of introducing prey into the home cage of a naive subject and manually recording the following behaviours: latency to capture, and the frequency of prey exploration, withdrawal from the prey, nip at the prey and unsuccessful capture. Repeated tests for prey capture were administered and the main findings showed: 1. Older hamsters were more likely to capture; 2. Hamsters became more efficient captors after experiencing several successful captures; 3. Marginal differences between the sexes; 4. An increase in (a) the amount of prey eaten, (b) the frequency of pouching after capture, (c) carrying after capture with repeated testing. The mechanisms postulated to account for the increase in probability and efficiency of capture were: a. Fear attenuation through the process of habituation. b. Practice of the prey-capture technique. c. Development of a learnt appetite for the prey. It was concluded that prey-capture in the hamster was a species-typical behaviour founded upon innate predispositions.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Leicester, Leicester, England

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