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New study suggests wild animals enjoy running in wheels intentionally and it's not just the lab mice

Scientists installed a running wheel in the wild and recorded the reactions of several animals. The results are eye-opening.

New study suggests wild animals enjoy running in wheels intentionally and it's not just the lab mice
Image Source: Getty Images/Douglas Sacha

When it comes to running wheels, images of mice and hamsters immediately come to our minds. However, animals in the wild, such as frogs, and even snails and slugs, appear to enjoy a little workout on the wheel as well. Johanna H. Meijer and Yuri Robbers of the Lieben University Medical Center in the Netherlands sought to know if wheel-running is an activity that only animals in confinement, such as lab mice, engage in, reports NBC News. The study, titled "Wheel running in the wild," was published in the journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society B" this month and has proved to be eye-opening.

Image Source: Getty Images/GK Hart/Vikki Hart
Image Source: Getty Images/GK Hart/Vikki Hart


They erected a cage-like device including a running wheel in two natural areas where wild mice thrive — in a green urban area and in a public-accessible dune region. Every animal visit was captured by a camera. Hundreds of instances of creatures visiting and using the running wheel were captured on camera in both locations over many years. The majority of the time, wild mice came for some exercise, but shrews, rats, snails, slugs, and frogs also "ran" on the wheel. 

The researchers said, "Of these, only the snails caused haphazard rather than the directional movement of the wheel and were therefore excluded from the analysis." The researchers noticed that the wild animals used the running wheel even when there was no food in the cage. The study mentions, "Some animals seem to use the wheel unintentionally, but mice and some shrews, rats and frogs were seen to leave the wheel and then enter it again within minutes in order to continue wheel running. This observation indicates that wheel running may well be intentional rather than unintentional for these animals." 



The findings, according to the researchers, might lead to a better understanding of individuals' motivations (or lack thereof) for exercise. They mention, "Exercise is beneficial for health and protects against cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, sleep disorders and depression. The activity also stimulates neurogenesis, even in aging rodents." They say that the findings of their research, "falsifies one criterion for stereotypic behavior, and suggests that running wheel activity is an elective behavior. In a time when lifestyle in general and lack of exercise, in particular, are a major cause of disease in the modern world, research into physical activity is of utmost importance." 




Research on animal behavior is most intriguing, as another study found out that among the several techniques animals have devised for obtaining food, archerfish's shooting style stands out. The little archerfish, known as the "anti-aircraft gunners" of the aquatic world, has acquired such precise eyesight and exquisite control that it can shoot down flying insects by spitting out a jet of water from many feet away. The insects then fall into the water, where they are promptly devoured. It is well-known for its shooting accuracy. 

Next time we feel lazy about doing our morning exercise, we can think of these wild animals who prefer the running wheel for some inspiration. 

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