Wheels sometimes do crop up in nature, especially when a human placed them there. Humans recently did it again, as this report makes clear:
“Wheel Running in the Wild,” Johanna H. (“Joke”) Meijer [pictured here] and Yuri Robbers, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol. 281 no. 1786, July 7, 2014. The authors, at Leiden University Medical Centre, The Netherlands, report:
Wheel running is often used in the laboratory for triggering enhanced activity levels, despite the common objection that this behaviour is an artefact of captivity and merely signifies neurosis or stereotypy. If wheel running is indeed caused by captive housing, wild mice are not expected to use a running wheel in nature. This however, to our knowledge, has never been tested. Here, we show that when running wheels are placed in nature, they are frequently used by wild mice, also when no extrinsic reward is provided…. This finding falsifies one criterion for stereotypic behaviour, and suggests that running wheel activity is an elective behaviour…. Our findings may help alleviate the main concern regarding the use of running wheels in research on exercise….
“Various animals use the running wheels, though mice are by far the most common. A breakdown by species is given in Various animals use the running wheels, though mice are by far the most common. A breakdown by species is given in (a). Please note that the vertical axis has been broken in order to accommodate the mice, which accounted for 88% of the wheel running. Also note that birds visited the recording equipment occasionally, but never ran in wheels. Species were identified using video recordings. Stills taken from these recordings show examples of (b) a mouse, (c) a frog and (d ) a slug using the wheel.”
Emily Underwood, writing for Science Now, supplies further details about the report and the researchers. Sarah Zielinsky appraises it for Science News.