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J Comp Psychol. 1984 Jun;98(2):177-88.

Prepartum changes in maternal responsiveness and nest defense in Rattus norvegicus.


Changes in maternal responsiveness during late pregnancy were traced by exposing females to foster pups (15-30-min tests) under conditions favoring the rapid initiation of maternal behavior. Groups were tested when nonpregnant or on Days 17, 20, 21, or 22 of pregnancy (Day 22 = parturition). Nulliparous females were compared with primiparous and with "experienced breeders." Nest defense was observed by introducing unfamiliar males (2-min tests) on Day 22. Results focused attention on three periods: (a) Days 17-20, when maternal responsiveness was lower than in the nonpregnant condition, (b) Day 21, when maternal responsiveness returned to or rose above nonpregnant levels, and (c) on Day 22, the 3.5 hr prior to delivery, during which 90% of females almost immediately retrieved, gathered, and tended foster pups and during which 92% attacked the unfamiliar intruders. (Attacks were rare earlier.) Maternally experienced females were more responsive to pups than nulliparous females when nonpregnant and throughout late pregnancy, but both groups were equally likely to show prepartum aggression.

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