U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version

February 2003


2003. G. R. Singleton, L. A. Hinds, C. J. Krebs, and D. M. Spratt, editors. Rats, Mice and People: Rodent Biology and Management. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Canberra, Australia.


We examined the influence of predator odor on reproductive output of Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus). Naive laboratory rats responded to predator chemical cues with reduced litter sire and skewed sex ratio. We found that exposure to predator urine had its greatest effect on implantation and maintenance of implantation when predator urine was applied to the bedding of rats during the first third of gestation. Based on the physical appearance of corpora lutea and uterine implantation scars, we found that the reduction in litter sire was due to resolution of the embryos during the early part of gestation. Subsequently, we discovered that the reduction in litter sizes in rats exposed to predator urine could be attributed to suppressed progesterone levels affecting implantation of embryos. Chronically high corticoslerone levels did not suppress reproductive output. Suppression of reproduction also occurred when rats were exposed to urine of conspecifics housed under high population densities. The evolutionary adaptive response for reduced litter sire is to produce high-quality offspring in an environment where food resources are scarce. The fact that rats respond to certain chemical signals in predator urine in a similar fashion may be fortuitous, and may have more to do with the coincidence that the urine contains similar cues resulting from protein digestion in carnivores and protein catabolism in nutritionally deprived rodents, rather than specific predator-prey adaptations.