We have heard about Syrian hamsters fighting because of their antisocial behavior, but have you heard about hamsters practicing cannibalism?
That is right. Despite their cute and cuddly appearance, these little balls of fur are also fierce creatures that can be a legit source of your nightmare.
Hamsters kill each other not just due to a territorial dispute; they also eat each other for various other reasons that will put Hannibal Lecter to shame.
Cannibalism in Kingdom Animalia
Cannibalism, or the eating of one species of its own kind, is not new among animals. The practice of consuming one’s own is considered taboo among humans and only during extreme cases like deep mountain range plane crashes have human cannibalism been minimally tolerated.
Animal cannibalism, however, does happen from time to time and is usually related to nutrition and diet. Animals like hippopotamus feeding of their former companion’s carcass, monkeys that kill their offspring to feed to a sibling, spiders that eat their mothers, and tiger salamanders feasting on non-relative tiger salamander larvae are examples of such.
Other animals, on the other hand, feed on their kin, offspring, and spouses in order to ensure species survival. Sloth bears, for example, may kill offsprings that are deemed weak. Sand tiger sharks also practice it instinctively – the earliest shark pup to wake and move about in the mother shark’s womb gets to eat its unborn and still-sleeping siblings to ensure its survival.
Among insects and arachnids, the Redback spider male allows itself to be eaten to prolong copulation and ensure that its sperm gets to fertilize most of the female spider’s eggs, thus making sure its genes are the ones that get passed on to the next generation.
Of all these animals, however, it is the chimpanzee that exhibits social behavior as a common motive for cannibalizing its own species. From overthrowing tyrant leaders to group survival from warring gangs, chimpanzees may exhibit a number of social reasons for fighting and feeding on their kind.
Except for overthrowing leaders, all the causes mentioned so far explain why our small and harmless-looking hamsters can suddenly become ferocious little beasts. But these are not the only things you need to worry about. There are also other factors that you may need to read on and consider so as to prevent one of your hamster from killing and eating an another.
Reasons Hamster Consume Each Other
We already know that hamsters are survivalists. Their origins can be traced back to far edges of deserts where resources are few and far between, so hamsters resort to all sorts of things in order to survive.
Coprophagy or poop eating, hoarding, stealing and burrowing, and even fighting their own species are common occurrence. The desert – or even just the fringes of it – is already a harsh environment after all and there are predators from up the skies, on the ground, and even underground.
Our hamsters are already domesticated but their wild instincts are still intact. Some of the reasons hamsters cannibalize their kind are:
1. Death Becomes Her
Mother hamsters will ensure that no remnants of any stillborn puppies are left behind. Wild predators have an awfully sharp sense of smell so the only way for the doe to hide the evidence is to consume the dead pup. The mother’s body also naturally reabsorbs any dead unborn pup without any repercussions.
2. Silence of the Puppies
The first thing hamsters ensure is the survival of itself and its brood. A mother doe will not tolerate weaklings. The dying and the weakest baby hamsters may be killed by their mom at any sign of incoming predator in order to ensure that only the strongest and most promising will survive.
Domesticated hamsters no longer need to fend for themselves and breeding can be controlled with human help; but the instinct to retain only the strongest in the brood still remains. Because of this, female hamsters may kill and eat their young if the puppies have already been weaned after three (3) or more weeks.
3. Children of the Corn
Studies reveal that maintaining a corn diet for French hamsters will result in them cannibalizing their young due to lack of nutrients, especially Vitamin B3 or Niacin and Tryptophan.
Additionally, the hamsters exhibit hints of dementia through behaviors such as pounding on their feeders and running in circles.
Domestic hamsters do not lack these nutrients. But there is a particular nutrient every pet parent has to ensure their hamsters to have, especially for does when pregnant all the way to the weaning stages – Vitamin E.
This is because Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps maintain immunity. Lack of such Vitamin will end up with stillborns or difficulty in birthing which will result in reabsorption of pups by their moms.
4. The Purge
Overpopulation among hamsters can cause them to fight and kill each other – consuming those who fall dead. This is especially true for Roborovski hamsters that may be lenient enough with their littermates in forming colonies; but excess in population would lead them to fight over resources.
Syrian and Chinese hamsters, on the other hand, are highly territorial. Any intrusion from another hamster will end up in a bloodbath.
Mother does, in general, are also highly particular about their brood’s survival. If the litter is too large, it will not hesitate to kill the weakest offspring to ensure that the rest will survive; even if the mother hammy is already domesticated. In addition, mother hamsters do not accept offspring born far from the nest and will kill it as well.
5. The Others
Syrian hamsters are highly antisocial and the only time a Teddy Bear may allow itself to be with another hammy is when it is with the opposite sex and during estrus. Beyond the mating and pregnancy, however, the doe feels so stressed with the male around that she would rather cannibalize her children than allow the male hammy to harm her puppies.
When Hamsters Become Hannibal
As a pet owner, it is important to know how your breed can turn into monsters of their kind in order to prevent them from turning into one.
Syrian hammies, for example, are highly territorial and will not hesitate to fight off and kill any hamster, regardless of the breed, that will venture into their cage. The only time they may exhibit tolerance – which is on rare occasions – is if the other hamster belongs to the same litter.
The same can be said for the European hamster, which only allows the company of another hammy during mating season.
Dwarf hamsters are less aggressive compared to the Golden Syrian. They sometimes get along with cage mates but they definitely do not do well with “invaders.” Chinese dwarf hamsters, however, are more aggressive except those of the same sex, especially among females.
Roborovski hamsters are probably the most lenient among the domestic hamsters; they can form and live in small colonies. You still need to monitor the Robo hamster population within the cage, however. A colony will kill its young in order to protect the older generation of Robo hamsters if the tank gets overcrowded.
Except for Syrian hamsters, other breeds may give a little bit of tolerance especially if they are of the same litter, the same cage when purchased, and of the same sex. Pups raised together easily identify one another through their scent. So if you plan to buy more than one hammy, make sure they come from the same source and are bought at the same time.
Robo hamsters, being the only breed among domesticated hammies that can tolerate larger groups, may quietly thrive in a colony depending on the size of their cage. A ten (10)-gallon tank, for example, can hold a pair of robos, while a 20 to 30-gallon tank can house two pairs.
Make sure that the following steps are followed to ensure a peaceful and healthy colony:
- Buy each pair together so that they are comfortable. If you plan more than a pair, it is better to buy them all together at the same time.
- Observe the hamsters for the first few weeks to make sure that they can cohabitate peacefully. House any snobbish hamster to avoid escalation of discord. If they all do not get along, house them separately.
- Avoid housing more than three pairs in one cage or tank.
- Provide multiple burrows, toys, feeding stations, and water bottles.
Protecting the Hamsters
Mother does are highly sensitive to invaders, so ensure that the following are practiced when raising a hamster baby:
- Ensure that the doe has more than enough amount of food starting from its pregnancy until its weaning. Maintain a well-balanced diet to make sure she gets all the nutrients including Vitamin E and plenty of protein.
- Remove the father buck as soon as the puppies are born.
- The mother and her puppies must live in a totally quiet environment with no human or animal disturbance. As a pet owner, only approach the cage to provide food and water.
- The mother hamster will disown any touched pup because of an extra foreign smell on it. Do not touch any of the puppies until they are 14 days old.
- Remove the puppies and put in a separate cage once they are weaned from their mother, which is before the third week.