The Loh Down On Science

Stressed-out squirrel moms make pups grow faster

Stressed-out moms . . . give kids an advantage?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying, yes, if you're a squirrel mom.

North American red squirrel pups are born in the spring but grow up fast.  Come autumn, they're expected to leave home and stash their own food for winter.  So in years when lots of pups are born, the competition for food and territory is fierce!  Pups that grow faster than others have an advantage.

Scientists had a theory: They thought some squirrel moms were using the number of squirrel calls they heard to tell how crowded their area was.  And crowding was somehow boosting their pups' growth.  

So they made some areas seem more crowded by playing recorded calls there.  Then they tracked squirrel births and growth rates.  They also analyzed mother squirrels' poop for clues.

Turns out, pups born in fake-crowded areas grew faster than other pups.

Why? Because their mothers' stress hormones gave their pups a growth boost during pregnancy and nursing.

Wow! If my stress hormones worked such wonders, my kids would be twenty feet tall!

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

Thursday, from 2-3 p.m. on the LDOS blog: Sandra chats with author Nathanael Johnson about his book All Natural.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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