Doofus Of The Day #809

Today’s award goes to this mind-boggling example of your tax dollars at work (NOT!).

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is giving an assistant professor nearly $20,000 to write a dissertation on the mating habits of Syrian hamsters.

. . .

Young adult female Syrian hamsters will be injected with 4-vinylcyclohexene diepoxide (VCD), which makes their ovaries age faster, to see the drug’s effect on hamsters’ sexual preferences. Female hamsters usually prefer a “dominant” male, the grant said.

“VCD-treated females will be given an opportunity to choose between a dominant and subordinate male hamster, and their preferences will be compared to vehicle-injected females,” the grant said. “Young females typically choose the dominant male in this situation. If the preference for dominant male hamsters by young VCD-treated females is reduced relative to controls, then this result will emphasize the importance of reproductive quality, independent of chronological age, in explaining the individual variation in female mate choice.”

Videos of the hamsters mating will be publicly available “indefinitely” through Cornell University.

. . .

Place has also studied the “erect clitoris” of the female spotted hyena, which is the “most highly masculinized female mammal known.”

There’s more at the link.

A few questions for the NSF:

  1. Why Syrian hamsters?  Aren’t there enough of the red, white and blue variety within our own shores for this experiment?  Or is it something in the Middle Eastern water?
  2. Who the hell wants to watch videos – “indefinitely” – of foreign hamsters mating?  Is this going to be a special subsection on YouTube or something?
  3. Who cares whether the female hyena is “the most highly masculinized female mammal known”, or whether she has an “erect clitoris” or not?  She’s going to bite your face off anyway if you get close enough!  (I speak as an old African hand, of course.  I know hyenas – not, I hasten to add, in any way, shape or form related to their clitorii – and I don’t like them.)

Sheesh . . .



  1. I'm going to be the straight man here and point out that "Syrian Hamster" is the species, not the nationality. The blog owner will hit me with a custard pie in 3…2…1…

  2. Looks like he's already done similar work in a Siberian hamster model. What's a Siberian hamster? Terrifying link here. Well, maybe not terrifying, but I do find it horrifying.

    No idea why something studied in Siberian hamsters needs to be replicated in Syrian hamsters, but what do I know. (Frankly I was always annoyed and often creeped out by reproductive endocrinology, so I may be biased.) I would point out that under $20k is a low price to keep a budding hamster-porn magnate off the streets, so there's that.

    @Steve: I have no idea if you're joking about that site, but I'm not putting it into my work-browser history!

  3. Honestly, that's a low, low price for research, and since it's in a hard science (biology/animal behavior) I'm all for it. Pure science research almost always pays off in the long run, even if it seems silly at the time.

  4. I believe the reason the situation with spotted hyenas is so interesting is because of the lack of hormonal basis for it. I think there was a study where they suppressed androgens in pregnant females and the female cubs? pups? whatever baby spotted hyenas are called, still had masculinized anatomy. This would indicate that there's a distinct lack of hormonal basis for the appearance of their anatomy. There's also the matter that the females are quite fertile despite having a balance of hormones that should make fertility a challenge for them.

    And from there I'll make the comment that stuff like that may be unpleasantly relevant in this day and age due to all the contaminants in our environment that mimic hormones. Right now the effects of it are only being observed in animals, but looking at the way kids are acting right now it's possible humans aren't safe.

    So maybe the hamster study could be an attempt to show that juveniles exposed to abnormal levels of hormones are more likely to engage in sexual activity/pick partners who are not the best choice. Because you can't really do a study where you track whether or not girls who go on the pill early are more likely to make bad decisions about sexual partners than girls who don't use hormone based birth control.

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