Monitoring rat behavior in a naturalistic environment

Small World for Rats

The Small World system is a home cage environment in which various ecologically relevant resources are freely available at distinct positions. The fully automated monitoring of the rat behavior in this quasi-natural environment allows the study of motivation and value based decision making. The deeper knowledge of the needs and preferences of laboratory animals is essential for improving animal welfare (3Rs – Refinement).

A total of eight resource cages are placed at equal distances to a center cage. Typical examples are water, food, nesting material, an adverse stimulus (e.g. odor of a predator), a running wheel for voluntary activity, and/or an option for social interaction. Thermal cameras and PIR sensors detect the animal approaching a resource cage and for how long it remains there 24/7. Video introduction

The Small World for rats was developed in close cooperation with Dr. Lorenz Gygax, Humboldt University in Berlin.

Hardware features:

  • 8 resource cages equidistant around a center cage (Cage type 2154F Tecniplast)
  • 1 additional cage with social partners, separated by bars that allow visual, olfactory and physical contact
  • Interconnecting tubes
  • Center cage monitored by a thermal camera
  • All resource cage entries monitored by PIR sensors
  • Large running wheel (33 cm) with precision activity acquisition (distance, speed, acceleration, direction)
  • All components are easy to remove for cleaning and maintenance

Software features:

  • 24/7 data acquisition
  • Graphical user interface reporting the track of the animal within the system
  • Thermal images of the individual within the center cage are translated to coordinates
  • Monitoring of entries to and exits from the resource cages and running wheel activity
  • Open data format for easy import and analysis
  • Long-term investigation of motivation and decision making
  • Understanding the needs of laboratory animals (animal welfare)
  • Behavior studies in an quasi-natural environment (the experimental setup provides all ecological relevant aspects of the native environment)
  • Animal friendly
  • Robust setup
  • Easy to operate, clean, and maintain
  • Reliable long-term data

Front view with central cage and surrounding resource cages.

Resource cage with social interaction tunnel.

Connecting tubes and resource cages.