When Peanut Butter is On the Line: A Study of Genetically Mutated Hamsters, Territoriality, and Bloodshed

Inspired by research conducted by the Georgia State University Neuroscience Institute

When Peanut Butter is On the Line: A Study of Genetically Mutated Hamsters, Territoriality, and Bloodshed
Photo by Bonnie Kittle / Unsplash

by Kenny Mitchell


We once assumed the removal of the aggression-increasing arginine–vasopressin receptor hormones in hamsters during the embryonic state would decrease violent behaviors and create a more calming environment. Hamsters are territorial, after all, and need personal space, room to grow.

Without aggressive feelings, it is assumed hamsters will be more apt to share, to love, to let others in. Assumptions were made. Mistakes were made. The result of the aforementioned experiment was 12 hamsters (one of whom was brutally murdered by his sister after failing to follow proper social cues) whose violent tendencies can only be compared to that of a tsunami.

The remaining 11 hamsters were given some space, sent to 11 different families, all of whom are fully up to date on their rabies shots (the hamsters bite). Unfortunately, one of them escaped their cage and scurried beneath a radiator, which morphed the hamster into a blob of unrecognizable blood and fur. After 2 years (near the end of the average hamster’s lifespan) the remaining 10 hamsters were gathered to battle for one more experiment.


At the beginning of their life, the hamsters were given a dollop of peanut butter and were then deprived of the treat for the next two years. We ask ourselves this question: after two years without sugar, without a jar of peanut butter in sight, to what lengths will they go when one dollop of delectable peanut butter is on the line? Is there anything these joy-deprived, feral hamsters will not do?

Hamsters 1-10 sat in their own compartment on the edge of a large maze of wooden planks and were shown one dollop of peanut butter being placed on a pedestal in the center. On the count of three, the slots of the hamster compartments opened, and the hamsters raced for the dollop!


Upon entry into the maze, all ten hamsters released a guttural scream at the scent of their long-lost ooey-gooey joy! All ten hamsters darted around the maze, racing toward the scent. As hamsters turned corners, they confronted each other. Hamsters 1, 4, 9, and 10 hissed at their companions upon interaction, whereas Hamsters 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8 would scream and get in the face of the hamster they crossed paths with, as if to say “I’ve never known peace! Get out of my way, suckers! I’ve got nothing to lose, and there’s peanut butter to enjoy!”

Hamster 7 was a different story. Hamster 7 (who killed her brother two years prior) retained her aggression, never learned how to stop a pot of water from boiling over the edge. Before the experiment, she smuggled a paperclip behind her cheek. She untwisted it and (upon confrontation with Hamsters 1-6 and 8-10) used it to impale her enemies. The other nine fought, raged, let their aggression soar, but they were struck down, nonetheless. Hamster 7 painted her cheeks with the blood of her brethren.

It’s history now. Hamster 7 raced to the center of the arena and ravaged the dollop.


Of course, we would be remiss not to mention the fact that Hamster 7 (known as Razzmatazz by her owner) is FBI trained. Apparently, her owner (one researcher’s weird cousin) is in the FBI. He taught Razzmatazz all she knows. (Way to go weird cousin for ruining the integrity of our experiment!) Due to Razzmatazz’s training, this experiment has become difficult to repeat.

Even with the experiment’s limitations, we have determined that, without the arginine–vasopressin receptor hormones, hamsters cannot process their aggressive emotions. The aggression is like water evaporating into a cloud that never learned to rain.

Aggression still boils in Razzmatazz’s blood, swirling like a monsoon.

We would also be remiss not to mention that this experiment is not about hamsters.


It makes sense that a cumulonimbus that cannot weep will try to scream and maybe, one day, explode. After all, aren’t we calmer after a storm, after it touches down, after it rages a bit, after it lets the wreckage sob and settle?

Kenny Mitchell (He/Him) is a third-year student at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Airgonaut, The Carillon, and Flash Fiction Magazine. Kenny drinks (inhales is a better word) an obscene amount of coffee and has been described as "the world's most violent typist." He (semi-occasionally) tweets @kennymwrites.