Hamster werewolf • Anna Novikovskaya • Scientific image of the day at Elements • Zoology

Usually, with the word “hamster” we see a fluffy and completely harmless animal. However, take a look at the photo – one of these “harmless” rodents devours a venomous scorpion Centruroides vittatusholding the prey with its front legs. This is the Mearns locust hamster (Onychomys arenicola), a representative of the genus Locusts, or scorpions, hamsters (Onychomycosis), which includes three species of rodents that live in the deserts and meadows of western North America. These animals are not only distinguished by increased aggression (which, however, is not uncommon for hamsters, remember the common hamsters from this video), they also developed very strange habits: they feed almost exclusively on animal food, they fearlessly attack even scorpions. , according to the speed of reaction will not give way to the famous Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and when they leave the hole for a few seconds they emit a high-frequency squeak, reminiscent of a howling wolf.

These animals weigh about 50 grams (ie no more than one selected egg), have an unusually long tail, and look more like a mouse than a hamster. In English, they are called: grasshopper mice – “grasshopper mice”. and the name of the genus Onychomycosis comes from Greek words onyx “Nail” and muscle ‘biceps’. But if the usual mice feed mainly on seeds and green parts of plants, then in the diet of a locust hamster, plant food occupies only a small part, while everything else is insects, spiders and various vertebrates, from small frogs and lizards to other rodents. . It is worth noting that sometimes Eurasian hamsters are not opposed to eating animal food, but the share of plant foods in their diet is even higher (see summary Wolves in clothes for mice).

In experiments with mating plant locust hamsters and other rodents, a locust hamster always survived (just like in the Highlander movies) and was able to kill even a male cotton hamster (Sigmodon hispidus), whose mass exceeded his own three times! The size of the prey does not matter to the hamster: it attacks prey much larger than itself, such as rats and snakes. It does not care about toxicity, it also willingly attacks highly toxic tree scorpions of the genus Centrifugal and the crickets of the house, not even the smell: even the nasty substances applied to the prey, which would frighten any other rodent, did not stop the attack of the locust hamster, which noticed a possible food in front!


Southern locust hamster eats a scorpion

And, frankly, the grasshopper hamster has every reason for such recklessness. First, it is a desert dweller: resources there are extremely limited, so if you do not show perseverance, the victim can hide, leaving the hunter without dinner. Second, locust hamsters are normally adapted to invertebrate hunting, which includes not only a special “fundamental bag” in the stomach that protects the digestive glands from the pressure of the hard chitin, but also the specialization of the sense organs (for example, hamburgers). more accurately than other rodents determine the position of the object from the ear) and the nervous system. In particular, the need to hunt toxic invertebrates has led to the development of resistance to toxins in locust hamsters and the normalization of pain. Having studied the characteristics of the hamster nervous system, scientists have found that, unlike other rodents and humans, in the body of a locust hamster, scorpion venom does not lead to the spread of a pain signal, but to its exclusion, ie the very poison acts as an analgesic!

No wonder these rodents attack any offered prey so wildly: nature itself has made sure that the locust hamsters do not feel pain and can continue to bite the scorpion until the arthropod is defeated! But at the same time, as another study has shown, although scorpion venom is harmless to both young and adult animals, as hamsters grow and gain experience, hamsters leave fewer opportunities for scorpions to attack themselves. . Infinite hamsters – by the way, start hunting at the age of 22 days – attack scorpions, trying to grab and give a series of deadly bites on the head (as if hunting crickets), but those that have already encountered poisonous, first after all, they start aiming at him, trying to gnaw at the enemy’s main weapon before using it.


North Grasshopper Hamster

And finally, the last point is the very famous “howl”, thanks to which the locust hamsters got the nickname “werewolf mice” (werewolves). In fact, there is nothing more awful in this sound than the howl of a wolf: it’s just a way of communicating with relatives. The fact is that, being one of the leading predators in an ecosystem with extremely scarce food resources, locust hamsters are not very friendly with each other and occupy large areas that protect aggressively from other hamsters. Screaming is a way to warn all outsiders that the territory is occupied and the owner or mistress will not tolerate the free loaders nearby and if the border trespasser does not escape in time, then the quarrel can not be avoided.


howling hamster

What to do: hard times – hard manners. Judging by the fossils, the locust hamster, which first appeared in the late Neolithic, formed as omnivorous rodents, similar in this respect to other hamsters. However, by the Pleistocene, the nature of their dental system had changed considerably, taking on a modern “insectivorous” appearance (the molars of locust hamsters are more reminiscent of those of insectivorous bats). Perhaps this shift was due to deteriorating living conditions: in the Late Middle Ages, desertification began in North America, which helped move some rodents from an omnivorous lifestyle to a predator.

Photo by AH Rowe, MP Rowe, 2015. Predatory grasshopper mice; State of New Mexico, USA.

Anna Novikovskaya

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