Behavioral and endocrine consequences of placentophagia in male California mice (Peromyscus californicus)

Juan P. Perea-Rodriguez, Meng Zhao, Breanna N. Harris, Joel Raqueno, Wendy Saltzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Ingestion of placenta by mammalian mothers can lead to changes in pain sensitivity, hormone levels, and behavioral responses to newborns. In some biparental mammals, males, in addition to females, ingest placenta when their offspring are born. In the monogamous, biparental California mouse (Peromyscus californicus), males first become attracted to placenta when cohabitating with their pregnant mate, and virgin males administered placenta are less neophobic than males given oil vehicle. In this study, we investigated the effects of placentophagia on pain sensitivity, anxiety-like behavior, behavioral responses to pups, and circulating corticosterone levels of both breeding and nonbreeding male California mice. We orally administered either a conspecific placenta or oil vehicle to male mice from three reproductive conditions (first-time fathers, first-time expectant fathers, and virgin males) and tested their pain sensitivity 1 h later, as well as their exploratory behavior and paternal responsiveness in an open field 4 h post-treatment. We measured plasma corticosterone immediately after the open-field test. We found that placenta-treated males, independent of reproductive condition, traveled significantly longer distances in the open field than males treated with oil, indicative of lower anxiety. Additionally, fathers had shorter latencies to approach and to care for pups (i.e., huddling and licking pups), and spent more time engaging in these behaviors, than did age-matched expectant fathers and virgin males, independent of treatment. We found no effect on plasma corticosterone levels or pain sensitivity as a result of either treatment or reproductive condition. These findings indicate that placenta ingestion decreases anxiety-related behaviors in male California mice, but might not influence pain sensitivity, paternal responsiveness, or plasma corticosterone concentrations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)283-290
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • California mouse
  • Open-field test
  • Pain sensitivity
  • Paternal care
  • Placentophagia


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