Clean living is a luxury wild animals can't afford, study suggests

October 20, 2013

Domestic animals will choose to steer clear of dirt – but their wild cousins can't be so picky and may be at increased risk of disease as a result.

A study of wild mice has shown that they prefer to sleep and eat near to used nesting material and droppings left by other mice.

Choosing a safe place to sleep and taking the opportunity to eat outweighs an increased risk of disease from other animals' dirt, the findings suggest. The study is significant because it could help improve scientists' understanding of how disease spreads among .

Scientists say the wild mice's behaviour contrasts with that of clean-living , which tend to develop an aversion to dirt. Pets and have plentiful food and are less at risk of being targeted by predators, and so they can be choosy about where they eat and sleep, researchers say.

Scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and California Santa Cruz studied two types of wild mice in Virginia. Animals were collected from woodland and placed in a box for a few hours, with the option of being close to mouse droppings or not. A similar experiment was conducted with new and soiled .

They found that the animals preferred being near droppings and second-hand nest material, regardless of whether there was an increased risk of contracting parasites in either case.

Dr Patrick Walsh of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who took part in the study, said: "Domesticated animals generally avoid faeces to reduce the chance of parasitic infection, but this study shows that wild are more concerned with the risk of starvation than with table manners, taking any opportunity to feed. They may even associate faeces with safety – a spot where a mouse has lived long enough to nest and poo is probably pretty safe – and that is worth the risk of disease. This helps us learn more about how diseases spread in the natural world."

The study is published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Explore further: Researchers study isotopes in feces to discern mountain gorillas' diet

Related Stories

Wild mice have natural protection against Lyme borreliosis

April 4, 2013

Like humans, mice can become infected with Borrelia. However, not all mice that come into contact with these bacteria contract the dreaded Lyme disease: Animals with a particular gene variant are immune to the bacteria, as ...

Recommended for you

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...

How cells 'climb' to build fruit fly tracheas

November 25, 2015

Fruit fly windpipes are much more like human blood vessels than the entryway to human lungs. To create that intricate network, fly embryonic cells must sprout "fingers" and crawl into place. Now researchers at The Johns Hopkins ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.