Wild hamsters in Europe have been displaying some truly disturbing behavior in recent months, according to a recent article from Phys.org.
Borrowing from research recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, Phys.org’s Marlowe Hood explains that wild hamsters being captured and studied are suffering from a form of malnutrition that is leading them to cannibalism and other bizarre behaviors.
The malnourished hamsters are particularly prone to eating their own young, while they are still alive.
If you thought 2017 couldn’t get any worse…. Cannibal hamsters are now a thing https://t.co/6dKKJvVWJ6
— The Independent (@Independent) January 29, 2017
“Females stored their pups with their hoards of maize before eating them,” the scientists reported in the Proceedings. “Pups were still alive at that time.”
That is correct. The mothers stored their pups with their food, suggesting that even before they ate the pups they considered them to be food rather than their offspring.
The hamsters exhibited other erratic behavior any time the researchers entered the room, such as “climbing and pounding their feeders” and frantically running around in circles.
“The females also had swollen and dark tongues, and blood so thick it was difficult to draw for samples,” Hood reports.
If cannibalism, abnormal physical behavior, gooey thick blood, and “swollen and dark tongues” sounds like something straight out of a zombie film, it gets worse: Human’s are susceptible to the same condition.
The hamsters’ condition is caused by malnutrition and vitamin decencies resulting from a diet consisting predominately of corn or maize.
In recent years, large swaths of farmland in Europe has been used for growing corn and nothing else, greatly reducing the diversity of food sources for smaller animals in those areas.
“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,” Hood writes.
The diet has led to the hamsters suffering from a lack of several nutrients, including niacin, or vitamin B3. The researchers believe it is a lack of this vitamin that is causing many of the health and psychological problems with the hamsters.
— NOVA | PBS (@novapbs) January 29, 2017
To make things even creepier, similar side effects as those suffered by the malnourished hamsters can manifest in dogs and even humans suffering from the same type of niacin deficiency.
In dogs, the niacin deficiency leads to what is commonly known as “black-tongue syndrome” Hood explains. In humans, it is called pellagra but is also sometimes referred to as the “3-D” disease because symptoms can include diarrhea, dementia, and dermatitis.
Unfortunately, the human symptoms do not end there.
“Improperly cooked maize-based diets have been associated with higher rates of homicide, suicide, and cannibalism in humans,” Hood quoted the researchers as writing.
The condition is believed to have afflicted millions of Europeans from the mid-18th to mid-20th century. Adding niacin back to the diet cures the condition.
The researchers who published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B conducted experiments to prove it was, in fact, a niacin deficiency that caused the strange behavior and not something else found in the corn. To do so, they simply added niacin to the hamsters’ corn feed, and the hamsters began acting normal soon after.
The research highlighted the problems that monoculture, an emphasis on cultivating one primary crop in a given area, can have on the environment.
“Monoculture in agriculture is really bad for biodiversity,” Gerard Baumgart, President of the Research Centre for Environmental Protection in Alsace, said. “Now we need to take concrete action.”
[Featured Image by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images]