A stressed out squirrel gives birth to furry little babies that grow faster than normal pace, giving them an edge, according to a new study jointly conducted by Michigan State University and the University of Guelph (Canada).
Per the study, anxious pregnant red squirrel gave birth to babies that grew at a faster rate than normal baby squirrels, giving the former a better chance of surviving in a harsh environment where food could be scarce.
The study's lead author Ben Dantzer said they had played recordings of calls made by squirrels used to defend their territories to trick a set of pregnant squirrels into believing that that the population of squirrels was bigger than it was. They found that these squirrels excreted the stress hormone cortisol in their poop.
Feeding of cortisol to some pregnant squirrels also made these critters give birth to babies that grew 41 percent faster than babies whose mothers were not fed cortisol.
The study, which was primarily based on the Kluane Red Squirrel Project, and the data, led the researchers to conclude that increased cortisol levels in pregnant squirrels would result in babies that would grow at faster pace.
"Despite the widespread perception that being stressed is bad, our study shows that high stress hormone levels in mothers can actually help their offspring," Dantzer said.
Whether increased levels of cortisol would have the same effect on pregnant human mothers or babies is another story altogether.