CLOSE
Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Will Wild Mice Use Running Wheels?

Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Scientists and animal rights activists have long wondered if wheel running was a neurotic behavior exclusive to captive mice. But new research on mice in the wild shows that it's possible these rodents run for fun.

Johanna H. Meijer and Yuri Robbers, researchers at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, placed exercise wheels outdoors in two areas—one urban, and one not accessible to the public—in partially enclosed cages to keep larger animals from knocking them over. They pointed video cameras triggered by infrared motion detectors on them. Over the course of the three years, cameras shot 200,000 clips of the wheels in motion.

After analyzing 12,000 clips, the researchers found that feral mice did, in fact, use the wheels: The cameras recorded 734 cases of mice running on the wheel in the urban area, and 232 cases in the private area, over the course of 24 months. Wheel running occurred year-round; the mice were typically juvenile. The mice spent between one and 18 minutes on the wheel. The animals got on the wheel, got off, and within minutes got back on, running away—and they always ran. They never walked.

“When I saw the first mice, I was extremely happy,” Meijer told the New York Times. “I had to laugh about the results, but at the same time, I take it very seriously. It’s funny, and it’s important at the same time.”

Though mice accounted for the vast majority of wheel running observations (88 percent), they weren't the only animal to go for a spin on the wheels: shrews, rats, slugs, frogs, and snails also hopped on (the snails, however, were excluded from the analysis, because they "caused haphazard rather than directional movement of the wheel," according to the study, which appeared in Proceedings of the Royal Society B). Like mice, some shrews, rats, and frogs left the wheel and then entered it again to keep running. "This observation indicates that wheel running may well be intentional rather than unintentional for these animals," the study says.

Though the enclosures at first had food, removing the food didn't stop mice from running. Although the researchers noted that the number of visits to the enclosures dropped after the food was removed, "the fraction of visits including wheel running increased. This implies that wheel running can be experienced as rewarding even without an associated food reward, suggesting the importance of motivational systems unrelated to foraging."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
iStock
iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
iStock
iStock

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios