A diet of corn is turning wild hamsters in north-eastern France into deranged cannibals that devour their offspring, researchers have reported.
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, or corn.
The monotonous diet is leaving the animals starving, scientists discovered almost by accident. The problem is a lack of vitamins. In fact, one in particular: B3, or niacin.
Researchers led by Mathilde Tissier at the University of Strasbourg had set out to determine whether hamster diet affects their ability to reproduce in the wild.
Earlier work had looked at the impact of pesticides and mechanised ploughing, which can destroy their underground homes, especially during hibernation in winter. But the possible link with what they eat remained unexplored.