Thursday, January 30, 2020

Running Wild

Environmental & Science Education
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

More than five years ago, Emily Underwood wrote a short report in the scientific journal Science (May 20, 2014) about a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that revealed a surprising finding.

Underwood notes that "in 2009, neurophysiolgist Johanna Meijer (Leiden University, Netherlands)...placed a rodent running wheel inside an open cage and trained a motion-detecting infrared camera on the scene."  She set out a "dish of food pellets and chocolate crumbs to attract animals to the wheel and waited."

The wait was short. Wild house mice found the food very quickly but surprisingly, they " then scampered into the wheel and started running--more than 12,000 animals over 3 years." They ran going nowhere. In addition rats, shrews and frogs also used the wheel.

Meijer found that "on average, the backyard mice...ran in 1 to 2 minute stints, roughly the same duration as that seen in lab mice.  She (and her team) "set up a second wheel in a nearby nature preserve of grassy dunes and attracted a similar crowd of enthusiasts. The animals kep running even when Meijer removed the food from the garden site, although they came in smaller numbers, she notes. Sometimes the rodents were so eager to run that they couldn't wait to take turns. At one point a large mouse sent a smaller mouse flying when it climbed on to the wheel and started running in the opposite direction."

Ted Garland, "an evolutionary physiologist at the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the work...said 'the findings suggest that like (some) humans, mice and other animals may simply exercise because they like to. Figuring out why certain strains of mice are more sedentary that others could help shed light on genetic differences between more active and sedentary people.'"

Not only is there more information about this behavior in Underwood's short essay, there is also a film of a running mouse. 

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