Developmental patterns and body fat content of juvenile common hamsters (Cricetus cricetus l.)

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The common hamster (Cricetus cricetus) is a facultative hibernator producing up to three litters per year. Juveniles born late in the season have less time to grow and prepare for the winter than early-born ones. We investigated a free-ranging population in an urban environment in Vienna, Austria. We compared body mass, proportion of body fat, as well as head, tibia and hind foot length between juveniles of first and second litters at natal emergence, four weeks post-emergence and shortly before onset of hibernation. In addition we tested for differences in growth rates during the first four weeks after emergence and for potential effects of sex and litter size. Capture-mark-recapture techniques were applied. Body fat content was calculated using a multiple regression model integrating morphometric parameters. At natal emergence, second litter offspring were larger and heavier than those of first litters. Litter size did not account for these differences. During the first week after natal emergence, first litter pups gained body mass faster, and during the first two weeks also showed faster head and tibia growth rates than second litter pups. Four weeks after natal emergence, however, second litter juveniles were still larger and heavier than first litter ones. Body fat content four weeks post-emergence did not differ between first and second litters but decreased with litter size. Shortly before onset of hibernation, however, first litter juveniles, which had more time to grow and accumulate body fat, exceeded second-litter ones in all measured parameters. In all litters investigated, we found no sex difference at natal emergence but males were heavier and larger than females four weeks thereafter demonstrating that the commonly known sexual dimorphism in this species developed during this period. Considering the time constraints late born juveniles face, the con ditional advance at natal emergence is assumed to be adaptive by increasing the chances for these individuals to survive overwinter despite the limited time to prepare for the hibernation period

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