Background: Rodents typically avoid illuminated and open areas, favoring dark or sheltered environments for activity. While previous studies focused on the effect of these environmental attributes on the level of activity, the present study tested whether the spatio-temporal structure of activity was also modified in illuminated compared with dark and complex compared with open arenas. For this, we tested common spiny mice (Acomys cahirinus) in empty or stone-containing arenas with lights on or lights off. Results: In an illuminated or open arena, spiny mice moved in less frequent but longer trips with relatively long distances between consecutive stops. In contrast, in either a dark arena or an arena with stones, the animals took shorter and more frequent trips, with more stops per trip and shorter inter-stop distances. In illuminated arenas spiny mice remained mainly along the walls, whereas locomotion in the center was more prevalent in dark empty arenas, and was carried out along convoluted paths. Increasing environmental complexity by adding stones to either illuminated or dark arenas increased locomotion along straight trajectories and away from walls. Conclusions: Earlier findings of reduced activity in illuminated or open areas have been extended in the present study by demonstrating changes in the spatio-temporal structure of locomotor behavior. In the more complex arenas (with stones) spiny mice traveled along short straight segments whereas in the open their trips were longer and took the shape of a zigzag path which is more effective against fast or nearby predators. Alternatively, the zigzag path may reflect a difficulty in navigation.