Limits to sustained energy intake XXIX: the case of the golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus)

Sarah A Ohrnberger (Corresponding Author), Catherine Hambly, John R Speakman, Theresa G Valencak (Corresponding Author)

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Golden hamster females have the shortest known gestation period among placental mammals and at the same time raise very large litters of up to 16 offspring, which are born in a naked and blind state and are able to pick up food from days 12-14 only. We quantified energy metabolism and milk production in female golden hamsters raising offspring under cold (8°C), normal (22°C) and hot (30°C) ambient temperature conditions. We monitored energy intake, subcutaneous body temperature, daily energy expenditure, litter size and pup masses over the course of lactation. Our results show that, in line with the concept of heat dissipation limitation, female golden hamsters had the largest energy intake under the coldest conditions and a significantly lower intake at 30° (partial for influence of ambient temperature: F2,403=5.6; p= 0.004). Metabolisable energy intake as well as milk energy output showed the same pattern and were significantly different between the temperatures (partial for milk energy production: F1,40= 86.4; p<0.0001). With consistently higher subcutaneous temperatures in the reproductive females (F1,813= 36.77; p<0.0001) compared to baseline females. These data suggest that raising offspring in golden hamsters comes at the cost of producing large amounts of body heat up to a level constraining energy intake, similar to that observed in some laboratory mice. Notably, we observed that females seemed to adjust litter size according to their milk production with the smallest litters (3.4±0.7 pups) being raised by hot exposed mothers. Future research is needed to unravel the mechanism by which females assess their own milk production capabilities and how this may be linked to litter size at different ambient temperatures. Golden hamsters reach 8-10 times resting metabolic rate (RMR) when raising offspring under cold conditions, which is compatible with the findings from laboratory mice and other rodents.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb183749
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number21
Early online date18 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

We thank Violet Berger and Zsuzsanna Szabo for their support and help throughout the project. Student helpers Bianca Benker, Olivia Grünzweil, Anna Mokry, Sarah Postner, Marilies Scheinost, Katherina Schlegel assisted with measurements and golden hamster welfare during the course of the project. Peter Thomson provided valuable technical support for the isotope analysis for the DLW method. We also would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for useful comments and criticisms on an earlier version of our publication.
Competing interests
The authors declare no competing or financial interests.
Our study was funded by a single funded grant to TGV from the Austrian Science Foundation (FWF), P 26 246- B17. JRS was supported by a 1000 talents award from the Chinese Government and a Wolfson merit award from the UK Royal Society.


  • sustained energy intake
  • heat dissipation limitation
  • Golden hamster
  • Subcutaneous temperature
  • milk production


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