Animal Cognition

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 311–318 | Cite as

On the border: perimeter patrolling as a transitional exploratory phase in a diurnal rodent, the fat sand rat (Psammomys obesus)

  • Reut Avni
  • David Eilam
Original Paper


Exploration is an initial phase of constructing spatial representation. In an illuminated environment, exploration by nocturnal rodents takes the form of home-base behavior, with the rodents organizing their activity in relation to the base, repeatedly orienting and returning to it. In the dark, home base behavior in gerbils is preceded by looping exploration, in which travel paths tangle into loops that close at various locations so that the gerbils pilot from one loop to the next. In the present study we tested a diurnal gerbil, the fat sand rat, Psammomys obesus, in both a lit and a dark open field in order to compare its exploratory behavior with that of nocturnal rodents. We found that under lit conditions, fat sand rats used perimeter patrolling, traveling mainly along the walls of the open field. In perimeter patrolling the animal probably monitors its location in relation to the perimeter (arena walls), and not to a specific location as in home base. In the dark, fat sand rats first used looping, and gradually shifted to perimeter patrolling exploration. We suggest that perimeter patrolling is a transient phase in which the animal evaluates possible locations for a home base. Thus, perimeter patrolling is an intermediate phase between looping, which is based on piloting from one landmark to the next, and home base exploration, in which the animal continuously orients to a specific location. This spatial behavior of perimeter patrolling may shed light on phases of information processing and spatial representation during exploration and navigation.


Cognitive map Home base Navigation Orientation Systematic search 



We are grateful to Pazit Zadicario and Lina Pinski for their help in testing and data acquisition, to Osnat Yaski for her comments, to Naomi Paz for editorial help, and to Barak Levy and the zookeepers of the I. Meier Segals Garden for Zoological Research for maintenance of the fat sand rat colony. This research was supported by The Israel Science Foundation, Grant 471/04. The animals in this research were maintained and treated in accordance with the guidelines for animal care and use in research (Permit L-05-48).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology Tel-Aviv UniversityRamat AvivIsrael

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