Detours by the blind mole-rat follow assessment of location and physical properties of underground obstacles

Tali Kimchi*, Joseph Terkel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Orientation by an animal inhabiting an underground environment must be extremely efficient if it is to contend effectively with the high energetic costs of excavating soil for a tunnel system. We examined, in the field, the ability of a fossorial rodent, the blind mole-rat, Spalax ehrenbergi, to detour different types of obstacles blocking its tunnel and rejoin the disconnected tunnel section. To create obstacles, we dug ditches, which we either left open or filled with stone or wood. Most (77%) mole-rats reconnected the two parts of their tunnel and accurately returned to their orginal path by digging a parallel bypass tunnel around the obstacle at a distance of 10-20 cm from the open ditch boundaries or 3-8 cm from the filled ditch boundaries. When the ditch was placed asymmetrically across the tunnel, the mole-rats detoured around the shorter side. These findings demonstrate that mole-rats seem to be able to assess the nature of an obstacle ahead and their own distance from the obstacle boundaries, as well as the relative location of the far section of disconnected tunnel. We suggest that mole-rats mainly use reverberating self-produced seismic vibrations as a mechanism to determine the size, nature and location of the obstacle, as well as internal self-generated references to determine their location relative to the disconnected tunnel section.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)885-891
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2003


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