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Cute little cannibals

New research concludes that wild hamsters have turned cannibal. Not just wild, but bonkers.

Apparently it’s all to do with their monotonous diet – which is in turn dictated by farming developments.

In France – where the study was conducted – many farmers grow only maize, or corn as it’s known elsewhere. Living on a maize-only diet is very unhealthy for people; many thousands of Italian peasants living in poverty in the mid-19th century died from pellagra, a consequence of too much maize in their diets. The end stages of pellagra are very nasty: those suffering it are aggressive, lose their hair, are weak, have severe dermatitis, mental confusion, dementia – and eventually die, if untreated. The treatment is simple – doses of tryptophan and vitamin B3, essential elements for health.

This new study shows that maize-based diets cause high rates of maternal infanticides in the European hamster, a farmland species on the verge of extinction in Western Europe. Once upon a time the rodents enjoyed a more varied diet, thanks to farmers planting different crops and without widespread use of insecticides.

Laboratory tests compared female hamsters fed on wheat and corn-based diets, with clover or worms, and those which only had corn. 80% of baby hamsters whose mothers had a varied diet survived into adulthood, compared to just 5% of those whose mothers ate only corn; the other 95% were eaten by the mother.

The maize-only mother hamsters reportedly ran round in circles in their cage, climbing and pounding their feeders. They had swollen and dark tongues, thick blood, hair deficiency and rash problems. Classic pellagra symptoms.

Picture source: frankieleon