Tag Archives: Rats

Rats in action 2 / Szczury w akcji 2

After a handful of attempts (for video of the first trials see here) my rats figured out how to open my LEGO puzzle boxes. It took them the longest to realise how to open the door of the DUPLO house. Tokyo was more interested than Stripe in the whole affair and is better at the ask.

Po paru próbach (film z pierwszych prób możesz naleźć tutaj) moje szczury nauczyły się otwierać pudełka-łamigłówki. Najtrudniejsze okazało się otwieranie drzwi do domku z DUPLO. Tokjo okazała większe zainteresowanie pudełkami i nauczyła się je otwierać szybciej.

Did you know that rats’ tails feel nice?

Many people are creeped out by rats’ tails. They think that they are grose and hairless. The former may be a matter of taste, but the latter is simply not true. A rat’s tail is covered in short delicate hairs and in my opinion feels quite pleasant: warm, dry* and slightly fuzzy.

Their tail helps rats with thermoregulation. For example, during intensive physical activity, rats don’t sweat like us, but the blood flow to the tail is increased which helps them lose heat (in humans the blood flow to the skin also increases when we overheat). At lower temperatures, the blood flow to the tail decreases.

Additionally, their tails help rats to keep their balance when climbing or running on narrow surfaces. Although not prehensile, the tail can hook onto, for example, a hand when the rat suddenly loses its balance.

Remember to never to pull on your pet rat’s tail or, even worse, use it to pick the rat up. It’s not only painful but can lead to removal of part of the skin, together with the underlying tissue (so-called degloving).

* There is also a common misconception that reptiles such as snakes are slimy, but they are actually have dry skin.

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Did you know that rats show empathic behaviour?

Imagine that you are walking along a lake. Suddenly you notice someone in the water, calling for help. What do you do? The answer may depend on many factors, such as how well you can swim or whether there are other people nearby. You can consciously analyse the situation but feelings are also important. Most people actually feel distressed when seeing others suffering which may push them into action.

And it seems that such empathy with others’ suffering is not restricted to humans, but occurs in many other animals.

Scientists studied empathic behaviour in rats and found that rats saved others from a water bath (not deep but still unpleasant). They did that even if the helped rat would end up in another compartment, without the possibility for social interaction which is rewarding for these animals. The rats helped not only their cage-mates but also strangers and if they experienced the bath themselves earlier, they were more willing to help the other rat.

However, when more effort was needed to help another rat – for example: multiple chain pulls were required to activate the opening mechanism – animals were less willing to help (similarly to humans).

Another experiment showed that one rat can take the time and effort to release another from a very tight and uncomfortable tube, even when it could choose to eat chocolate (which they like a lot) instead. Although in this case rats could interact with each other and eventually share the chocolate.

It seems that the willingness to help other animals, even if it brings no direct reward, or even comes at a cost (less chocolate later), stems from the fact that rats try to reduce their own empathetic discomfort. This is supported by the fact that rats which were given the anxiety-reducing drug midazolam paid no special attention to distressed companions (but they did to chocolate).

Not only rats show empathy, but also for example, dolphins, elephants and monkeys. There are even cases of chimpanzees in zoos drowning while trying to help their children or mates that had fallen into a moat surrounding their enclosure.

So, we know that animals can show empathic behaviour. Will we show empathy towards them?

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Rats in action / Szczury w akcji

This time something different.

I decided to test my rats on puzzle box solving abilities.

Together with my daughters we made puzzle “boxes” from Lego and hid treats inside (dried coconut flakes). We gave the rats one or two chances to open the box without help or demonstration. That was not enough for them to figure it out. Then we left each puzzle half open. That was enough for Tokyo to get the treat and the next time she opened the “box” herself. The last puzzle we didn’t demonstrate. She got scared by the click of the door and was done for the day. Stripe was not successful this time. Partly because she missed our demonstrations.

The whole “experiment” lasted around 15 min.

Tym razem coś innego.

Postanowiłam sprawdzić, czy moje szczury poradzą sobie z otwieraniem pudełek-łamigłówek.

Razem z córkami zbudowałyśmy takie „pudełka” z klocków Lego. Do środka włożyłyśmy suszone płatki kokosa. Najpierw dałyśmy szczurom jedną czy dwie szanse samodzielnego otwarcia skrytek. To było za mało, żeby im się udało, więc częściowo otwarłyśmy skrytki. To wystarczyło Tokio, by dostać się do jedzenia i następnym razem już sama otworzyła „pudełka”. Ostatnia skrytka nie została zademonstrowana i Tokio przy próbie otwarcia przestraszyła się stuknięcia drzwiczek. Potem już wolała wejść do mojego rękawa niż zajmować się łamigłówkami. Kresce tym razem się nie udało. Częściowo dlatego, że przegapiła nasze demonstracje.

Całe to „doświadczenie” trwało ok. 15 minut.

Did you know that rats can learn to play hide-and-seek?

Many pets like to play, not only when they are young. But have you ever played hide-and-seek with one? And I’m not talking about only you hiding so that your dog can sniff you out. I’m talking about the game we probably all know from childhood where one person stays in one place, while the other hides and waits to be found by the first one. And afterwards, the roles are reversed!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t me playing hide-and-seek with rats, but researchers from Germany. They trained the rats to play both seeker and hider.

When seeking, rats were locked in a central box and released remotely once the researcher had hidden themselves behind one of several cardboard covers. As soon as the rat found the researcher, they got a reward. Not a tasty treat, but an interaction, like tickling, rough-and-tumble-like play and petting.

When hiding, the rat was placed in an open central box. The researcher sat next to it, loudly counting. The rat had 90 second to hide. If it was hidden behind a cover or in one of the boxes and stayed there till the researcher found it, it got a reward of interaction.

The rats were successful at both hiding and seeking and they could easily switch between the roles.

Moreover, they used strategies I recognise from my own childhood, even though they were not explicitly trained to use them!

When seeking rats moved more, checking different locations in a systematic manner and they used visual cues. They also checked previous hiding locations of humans more often (sometimes researchers kept on hiding in the same place) while rarely entering small boxes.

When hiding, their movement was more directed and they changed hiding locations between trials and stayed quiet (also in the ultrasound range they normally use for communication) while hiding.

And it seems that the rats were not playing just to get a reward, but that they actually had fun!

They performed joy jumps, and when found they often cut short the reward interaction, ran away and re-hid, thus prolonging the game and delaying the reward!

I wonder, shall I also train my rats to play hide-and-seek? But I have a feeling that they would rather choose pumpkin seeds as a reward than tickling…


You can watch the recording of the game here.


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Did you know that rats have personalities?

My rats: Takyo and Stripe

It’s evening.

My pet rats are waking up. Well, one of them is. Tokyo has left the sleeping place and scanned the cage for new food. Now she is standing on one of the wooden bridges in the cage and is looking in my direction. Stripe is still sleeping when I approach and open the cage. While Tokyo is happy to run up my arm, Stripe opens her eyes and slowly stretches. If I left, she would go back to sleep. But I wait and she gets up, stretches and yawns some more. At last, she approaches the door, sticks her head out and sniffs my hand. But then she retreats to the cage and grooms for a bit. Encouraging words and my presence make her repeat this pattern a couple of times and at last, she leaves the cage. In the meantime, Tokyo got bored with running up and down my sleeves and is trying to get on top of the cage.

Tokyo and Stripe are two sisters from the same litter. But like most human siblings they differ in their personality and likes and dislikes. Tokyo is more of an extrovert. She is more energetic and likes contact with people. She is happy to leave her cage and climb my arms or even better get under a jumper or into a sleeve. Because she likes contact with humans, she also learns tricks easier. She seems more intelligent, but that may be my human bias.

Stripe is more of an introvert. Getting out of the cage and onto my arm usually takes long, even if she is not sleepy. And she likes sleeping. But she is much braver than Tokyo in exploring new places. And of course, they also have their food preferences, for example Tokyo prefers basil over coriander and Stripe the reverse.

Whoever had cats and dogs may not be surprised that rats also have personalities. But many other animals do as well, even fish, bees or woodlice.

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