Odours underground: Subterranean rodents may not forage "blindly"

Giora Heth, Josephine Todrank, Sabine Begall, Rosie Koch, Yosi Zilbiger, Eviatar Nevo, Stanton H. Braude, Hynek Burda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Subterranean rodents were thought to forage underground for edible roots and bulbs without the benefit of any sensory cues. Subterranean rodents representing four genera from three families (East-Mediterranean Spalax, African Cryptomys and Heterocephalus, and South American Spalacopus), tested in T-mazes filled with soil in which edible plants either had or had not been growing, used odours to discriminate between the soils and chose to dig in the soil containing odorous substances (kairomones) released from roots of growing plants. Such discriminations could enable them to orient their digging toward food sources in the field and thus to improve their foraging efficiency. Spalax blind mole-rats also discriminated between the odours from soil in which edible as opposed to poisonous plants had been growing. These species evolved independently on three continents; thus their abilities probably are characteristic of subterranean rodents in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-58
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was inspired in part by a pilot study conducted by Mathias Kocks in the Department of Zoology, University of Essen. This work was supported in part by a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to G. Heth and grants from the St. Louis Zoo and the Singapore Zoo to S. Braude. We wish to thank three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


  • Chemosensory cues
  • Food odours underground
  • Foraging strategies
  • Kairomones
  • Subterranean rodents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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