Animal Cognition

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 797–806 | Cite as

Influence of spatial environment on maze learning in an African mole-rat

  • Lydia du Toit
  • Nigel C. Bennett
  • Alecia Nickless
  • Martin J. Whiting
Original Paper


In subterranean species where excavation is energetically expensive, efficient spatial navigation is vital to reducing the costs of locating important resources such as food and mates. While spatial navigational ability is positively correlated with sociality in subterranean mammals, we have a less clear understanding of the role of habitat complexity on navigational ability. We tested spatial navigational ability and memory in 12–18-month captive Natal mole-rats (Cryptomys hottentotus natalensis) maintained in a simple environment with no environmental enrichment and newly captured wild individuals from natural, complex burrow systems. In maze trials, mole-rats captured freshly from the wild made significantly fewer navigational errors, were more likely to successfully navigate the maze, travelled shorter distances and as a consequence, completed the maze in less time. Male mole-rats from both experimental treatments were more likely to complete the maze than females. Memory retention of the maze was tested on day two, seven, 30 and 60, respectively. The results were variable, although both groups showed a significant memory retention 60 days after testing. Our results highlight the potential importance of the environment (microhabitat complexity) on spatial cognitive performance in mole-rats.


Mole-rat Cognition Memory Learning Navigation 



This work was funded by a grant from the University of the Witwatersrand to MJW. We thank Helen Place and Luke Duncan for assistance in the field. We also thank Clive Coen, Marietjie Froneman and Paul Odendaal for their assistance. This research was approved by the Animal Ethics Screening Committee of the University of the Witwatersrand (Clearance Certificate Number: 2005-43-4); animal collection was authorized by the KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife Permits Office. The management of Glengarry Park is thanked for permission to collect animals from their property.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lydia du Toit
    • 1
    • 2
  • Nigel C. Bennett
    • 3
  • Alecia Nickless
    • 1
    • 4
  • Martin J. Whiting
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Animal, Plant and Environmental SciencesUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburg, WitsSouth Africa
  2. 2.Obesity Research and ManagementUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  3. 3.Department of Zoology and Entomology, Mammal Research InstituteUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  4. 4.Natural Resources and the EnvironmentCouncil for Scientific and Industrial ResearchPretoriaSouth Africa
  5. 5.Division of Brain, Behaviour and Evolution, Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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