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Are Rodents Territorial?

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Note: Check with your teacher or science fair adviser for appropriate forms and permission to work on this project because strict rules apply to experiments involving vertebrate animals. You are required to complete additional forms for the prescreening of your project and approval by a scientific review committee authorized by your state or regional science fair prior to starting your research.

Purpose

To determine if mice and rats become aggressive when another mouse or rat is introduced into their space and if there are other factors that influence this behavior.

Hypothesis

Mice and rats are often considered social, gentle animals that make great pets. However, mice and rats may become territorial when another mouse or rat intrudes on their space and may act aggressively or defensivly. If territoriality does exist, there may be other factors that influence this behavior, such as gender,age, pregnancy, or the onset of heat.

Materials Needed

  • 3 male mice: one 6 months, one 12 months, and one 18 months old. 3 female mice: one 6 months, one 12 months, and one 18 months old. One female mouse should be pregnant or in heat. 3 male rats: one 6 months, one 12 months, and one 18 months old. 3 female rats: one 6 months, one 12 months, and one 18 months old. One female rat should be pregnant or in heat.
  • 12 cages in which to keep the mice and rats
  • bedding for cages, such as soft paper, wood chips, or shavings. The material should be absorbent and changed twice per week.
  • food for the mice and rats, such as grains and meat products, fruit, or commercially available rodent pellets, which are easy to use and provide a reliable diet
  • water feeders with fresh water for each cage

Experiment

The 6 mice will be placed in their respective cages and be allowed to establish their own territory or home on their own for about a month. Once the mice have settled into their homes, they will be tested to see if any variables, such as sex, age, pregnancy, or the onset of mating season (heat), cause territoriality in a mouse when an intruder is allowed entry into a mouse's home. This experiment will be repeated with the rats. Observations will be made among each group to determine which variable, if any, creates territorialism. Then the mice and rats will be compared to one another to see if they exhibit similar behaviors.

Procedure

  1. Set up a separate home for each mouse with bedding, food, and fresh water. Be sure to clean the cages and bedding of the residents at least twice per week and ensure a daily fresh supply of food and water. Allow each mouse about 30 days to get comfortable and settled into its home.
  2. Test the sex variable as a factor.
    1. Allow a female mouse (FM1 = female mouse 1) that is not pregnant or in heat to be admitted into the home of one of the male mice (MM1 = male mouse 1). As soon as she enters the male's home, observe the male's behavior carefully. Note any aggressiveness, hoarding of food, or other behavior changes in the male mouse. (Be sure to remove the female mouse quickly from the cage if she is danger of being harmed by the male mouse or vice versa.) Try to keep the female in the cage with the male mouse for an hour (if possible) and closely observe the male's behavior, making detailed notes throughout the hour. At the end of the hour, return the female to her cage and allow both mice to get comfortable again in their own homes.
    2. Take a different male mouse (MM2) and allow him entrance into the home of a different female mouse (FM2) that is not pregnant or in heat and perform the same evaluation. Try to keep the male in the cage with the female mouse for an hour (if possible) and closely observe the female's behavior, making detailed notes throughout the hour. (Remember to remove the male mouse quickly from the cage if he is in danger of being harmed by the female mouse or vice versa.)
    3. When all the mice have adjusted comfortably back in their homes, take MM1 and allow him entry into the home of the third male mouse (MM3) and perform the same evaluation. Try to keep MM1 in the cage with MM3 for an hour (if possible) and closely observe MM3's behavior, making detailed notes throughout the hour. (Remember to remove MM1 quickly from the cage if he is in danger of being harmed by MM3, or vice versa.)
    4. Take FM2 and allow her entry into the home of FM1 and perform the same evaluation. Try to keep FM2 in the cage with FM1 for an hour (if possible) and closely observe FM1's behavior, making detailed notes
      throughout the hour. (Remember to remove FM2 quickly from the cage if she is in danger of being harmed by the FM1,vice versa.)
    5. Note: Leave FM3, which is pregnant or in heat, or has a litter, out of this experiment.
  3. Test the age variable as a factor. Perform the same type of intrusion test, this time introducing each male into the other male mouse homes to note the behavioral changes of each male when a different aged male is introduced into the home. Perform the same test with both FM1 and FM2. Again, leave FM3 out of this experiment.
  4. Test the variable of pregnancy or heat.
    1. Take any male mouse and allow him entry into the home of FM3. As soon as he enters the female's home observe the female's behavior carefully. Note any aggressiveness, nervousness, hoarding of food, mating behavior, or other behavior changes in the female mouse. (Be sure to remove the male mouse quickly from the cage if he is danger of being harmed by the female mouse or vice versa.) Try to keep the male in the cage with the female mouse for an hour (if possible) and closely observe the female's behavior, making detailed notes throughout the hour. At the end of the hour, return the male to his cage and allow both mice to get comfortable again in their own homes.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 with the rats. Be careful to note the identity of each rat—male rat 1 (MR1), female rat 1 (FR1), on so on. Make detailed notes of each intrusion.

Results

  1. Did any of the mice become territorial when it encountered the intruder? If so, under which variables did you observe territorial behavior?
  2. Did any of the rats become territorial when it met the intruder? If so, under which variables did you observe territorial behavior.
  3. If territorial behavior was detected, what type of territorial behavior did the male mice exhibit when intruded upon? What type of territorial behavior did the female mice exhibit when intruded upon?
  4. If territorial behavior was detected, what type of territorial behavior did the male rats exhibit when intruded upon? What type of territorial behavior did the female rats exhibit when intruded upon?
  5. Were the mice or the rats more territorial? Was any group docile or social when an intruder was introduced?
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