A Biorobotic Investigation of Norway Rat Pups (Rattus norvegicus) in an Arena
Rat pups (Rattus norvegicus) are born blind and deaf yet manage to wriggle about in a huddle, dynamically adjusting their positions and thereby displaying thermoregulation and energy conservation at the level of the group. As pups develop, their activity and mobility outpace the development of their visual and auditory systems making it increasingly difficult to aggregate and maintain aggregation while still blind and deaf. The developmental emergence of coupled activity may be one mechanism that facilitates aggregation. Our previous research has shown that the activity of a seven-day-old pup is independent of the activity of the litter mates it contacts. However, we hypothesized that, by day 10, more active and mobile pups will exhibit coupled activity, becoming increasingly quiescent when in contact with other behaviourally quiescent pups. In order to test this hypothesis, we used individual-based modelling. Because the structure of the model was complex, we used a Darwinian algorithm for evolving a model that behaved like ten-day-old pups aggregating in an arena. Sensitivity to quiescent individuals was manifested in some litters by the transitory spreading of quiescence across aggregates of both real and virtual pups (a contagion effect). As pups develop, individual behaviour becomes increasingly contingent on the behaviour of others revealing what may be a basic component in the development of cooperative behaviour.