Assessing chemosensory perception in subterranean mole rats: Different responses to smelling versus touching odorous stimuli

Giora Heth, Josephine Todrank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A new bioassay was developed to enable quantitative and qualitative assessment of subterranean mammals’ responses to chemosensory stimuli. Mole rats of the Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies of Israel responded diVerently to the odours of conspecific and heterospecific urine depending upon whether they had previous experience with touching the urine with their noses. Mole rats were initially indiVerent or slightly attracted to the odour of both conspecific and heterospecific same-sex urine although their behaviour indicated that they could smell it. When animals were given the opportunity to touch the stimulus with their noses, they tended to avoid both types of urine. When exposed to the odour alone, in a separate experiment that followed the touch experiment, the avoidance tendency remained. These results suggest that the animal learns about the odour of the urine through nasal contact with it. Mole rats were indiVerent to smelling and touching their own urine and urine of a novel non-competitor rodent (guinea pig, Cavia porcellus) and avoided the urine of a potential predator (marbled polecat, Vormela peregusna) without the necessity of touching it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1009-1015
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1995

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank M. Halpern, C. Wysocki, A. Singer, G. Beauchamp and A. Beiles for constructive discussions and suggestions about this research and M. Sholowicz, S. Kirzner, R. Shapira, T. Shechtman and S. Geva for technical assistance. This research was supported by grants from the Department of Public Relations and Information at Haifa University, the Israel Discount Bank Chair of Evolutionary Biology and the Ancell-Teicher Research Foundation for Genetics and Molecular Evolution, established by Florence and Theodore Baumritter of New York.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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