Corn is turning French hamsters into ‘deranged cannibals’ that eat their own offspring
- Researchers say a monotonous diet is leaving the animals starving
- The problem is a lack of vitamins. In fact, one in particular: B3, or niacin
- Hamsters ran in circles, ‘climbing and pounding their feeders’
- Females stored pups with their hoards of maize before eating them alive
A diet of corn is turning wild hamsters in northeastern France into deranged cannibals that devour their offspring, alarmed researchers have reported.
‘There’s clearly an imbalance,’ Gerard Baumgart, President of the Research Centre for Environmental Protection in Alsace, and an expert on the European hamster, told AFP on Friday.
‘Our hamster habitat is collapsing.’
More common farther to the east, Cricetus cricetus in critically endangered in western Europe.
Once nourished by a variety of grains, roots and insects, the burrowing rodents live today in a semi-sterile and unbroken ocean of industrially grown maize, or corn.
The monotonous diet is leaving the animals starving, scientists discovered almost by accident.
The problem is a lack of vitamins. In fact, one in particular: B3, or niacin.
Researchers led by Mathilde Tissier at the University of Strasbourg had set out to determine whether hamster diet affects their ability to reproduce in the wild.
Earlier work had looked at the impact of pesticides and mechanised ploughing, which can destroy their underground homes, especially during hibernation in winter.
But the possible link with what they eat remained unexplored.
A first set of lab experiments with wild specimens compared wheat and corn-based diets, with side dishes of clover or worms.
There was virtually no difference in the number of pups born, or the basic nutritional value of the different menus.