Recently, there have been some pretty interesting things going on at Fisi camp. Drama you could say. Well, to be honest, there is always drama in the hyena world. This one incident, dare I say it, is a betrayal of family bonds. Let me explain.
Yogurt, a beautiful adult female, majestic in all hyena ways, has young cubs. Named Balloon and Lazar, the two are about 6 months old and as of now, neither have been sexed. These two rambunctious youngsters are known for the playfulness and their boldness in pouncing on other females to instigate a round of merriment. However, their behavior in the past couple weeks have shown other tendencies.
The cubs nursed from a different mom! These scoundrels have been seen nursing from another female Donkey Kong (DK) on multiple occasions. Allonursing (nursing from a mom other than your own) is rarely seen in the spotted-hyena.
We watched the event unfold as such: a dusky evening set the mood as Lazar and Balloon bristletail approached DK. We passed it off as aggressions or perhaps play since DK countered their approach with a submissive defensive parry. But then, DK lay on the ground and the cubs began to nurse. When she would move, Lazar and Balloon would follow and exhibit aggressive attempts again to begin nursing.
In the field, we have always identified moms with their respective cubs by nursing. That’s because cases of allonursing are flukes, occurring almost never (never say never in science.) So, why are the hyenas nursing other cubs? What sort of benefit would a mother receive form nursing a non-relative’s cubs?
Interestingly enough, there are cases of cub adoptions. When a mother loses her own cubs she may (rarely) adopt those of a clan-mate’s (East et al. 2009). No matter what a young cub’s rank was in the hierarchy at time of birth (that of her/his biological mother), if raised by another mom, the cub inherited the adoptive mom’s societal rank (East et al. 2009). So it would appear that the social environment a mother creates for her cub, outside of the womb, may be highly influential in determining said cub’s rank (East et al. 2009). Additionally, adoptive mothers were not always closely related to a birth mother. So in an evolutionary sense, why would a spotted hyena adopt new cubs? What benefits could you accrue by raising another’s offspring?
DK may have lost her cubs, which is why she allowed nursing by Balloon and Lazar. But, (as advised by Kay and former RA/new lab manager Hadley) we believe this could also be a sign of the clan beginning to fission. As you may know hyena clans interact as fission-fusion groups, breaking apart when they become too large. Talek West has 120 individuals and may be beginning to burst at the seams. Signs of fission can include breaking down of the social hierarchy and changes between hyena relationships.
|Pica (the cub above) has also been seen to nurse from her aunt, Amazon.|
Stay tuned. For now, enjoy the fact that humans rarely allonurse...(or do we? Wet-nurses.)
East, M.L., Honer, O.P., Wachter, B., Wilelm, K., Burke, T., Hofer, H. 2009. Maternal effects on offspring social status in spotted hyenas. Behavioral Ecology. 10: 478-483.
*Apologies for the lateness on this blog entry. More technical difficulties than I would like to ever think about again.