Golden hamsters have four times the body size of mice, raise very large litters and are required to produce large quantities of milk during the 18-day lactation period. We have previously proposed that they may be prone to being limited by their heat dissipation capacity. Studies where lactating females are shaved to elevate their heat dissipation capacity have yielded conflicting data so far. With their short pregnancy of ∼18 days, the large litters and the reported high skin temperatures, they may serve as an ideal model to elucidate the role of epilation for energy budgets in lactating mammals. We shaved one group of lactating females dorsally on the sixth day of lactation, and tested if the elevated heat dissipation capacity would enable them to have higher energy intakes and better food-to-milk conversion rates. Indeed, we observed that females from the shaved group had 6% higher body mass and 0.78°C lower skin temperature than control females during lactation. When focusing on the phase of peak lactation, we observed significantly higher (10%) gross energy intake of food and 23.4% more milk energy output in the shaved females, resulting in 3.3 g higher individual pup weights. We conclude that shaving off the females' fur, even though restricted to the dorsal surface, had large consequences on female energy metabolism in lactation and improved milk production and pup growth in line with our previous work on heat dissipation limitation. Our new data from golden hamsters confirm heat dissipation as a limiting factor for sustained metabolic rate in lactation in some small mammals and emphasise the large effects of a relatively small manipulation such as fur removal on energy metabolism of lactating females.
Our study was funded by a single funded grant to T.G.V. from the Austrian Science Foundation (FWF; P 26 246-B17). J.R.S. was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (SQ2018YFA08003201) and a Wolfson merit award from the UK Royal Society.
- Insect Science
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Aquatic Science
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology