Maternal aggression was examined in wild female mice (Mus musculus domesticus) derived from animals trapped in Alberta, Canada. Lactating females were tested for their behavior toward intruder males during the time of postpartum estrus while housed in a two-cage apparatus containing a defensible nest area. Prior to being used as intruders, sexually naive males were screened for their behavior toward a newborn pup (83% exhibited infanticide). Only infanticidal males were then housed in pairs and allowed to establish a dominance hierarchy. Dominance status was further verified by a urine marking test. The dominant and subordinate infanticidal males were then placed into a lactating female's cage and observed for 1 hr. The test was terminated immediately when a male began to attack the pups. Lactating females attacked the males in both groups, but subordinate males received more intense attacks than dominant males. Dominant males elicited significantly more fear/defense behavior than subordinate intruders. All of the dominant males and only one submissive male attacked the pups. Females were thus successful in blocking infanticide only by infanticidal subordinate males. Since females do not persist in attacking males with high fighting ability, one function of maternal aggression could be to assess the fighting, and resource holding, potential of a future mate. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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