Do spalax ehrenbergi blind mole rats use food odours in searching for and selecting food?

G. Heth, J. Todrank, E. Nevo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This laboratory study examined responses of Israeli blind subterranean mole rats (of the Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies) to food odours (Narcissus tazetta and Urginea maritima bulbs) and assessed to what extent mole rats’ odour preferences are indicative of their food preferences and whether these preferences influence their foraging behaviour. Prior to odour testing, mole rats ate Narcissus bulbs preferentially and avoided Urginea bulbs when both types of bulbs were available, as is the case in nature. In phase 1, mole rats (n = 20) spent significantly more time sniffing the odour of Narcissus bulbs than the odour of Urginea bulbs, indicating a preference for the odour of the preferred bulb. In phase 2 in a six-tunnel radial arm maze, the presence of preferred or non-preferred food odours at the ends of the 20 em tunnels did not affect mole rats’ (n = 12) movement into the tunnels. The results suggest that mole rats can identify food items by their odours and thus can discriminate between edible (e.g., Narcissus) and poisonous (e.g., Urginea) bulbs without the necessity of biting into them. Because there is limited air movement in mole rats’ sealed tunnel systems, the food odours do not travel far underground, and thus mole rats probably do not use detection of airborne food odours to facilitate their foraging underground. Our results suggest that mole rats could use food odour discrimination to select edible food items for collection and to sort food items in their nest stores.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-82
Number of pages8
JournalEthology Ecology and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank Eran Dayan for technical assistance, Amotz Dafni for consultation on plant toxicity, and the Research Authority of the University of Haifa for financial support. We are grateful to D. Andersen and J. Jarvis for helpful comments on the manuscript. E. Nevo thanks the Israeli Discount Bank Chair of Evolutionary Biology and the Ancell Teicher Research Foundation for Genetics and Molecular Evolution.


  • Food selection
  • Foraging underground
  • Odour discrimination
  • Odour preferences
  • Spalax ehrenbergi
  • Subterranean mole rats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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