Misha found that although mosaic-tailed rats may look similar to each other from the point of view of a human, they all have different characters and show individual behaviours. “We have some that are exploratory and brave around new spaces and new objects,” Misha says.
“Others are very, very cautious and don't like to go and explore new things. That obviously affects how they interact with a puzzle, which is something they have never seen before.” Misha says she also found that age was not a significant factor when it came to solving the puzzles, as young rats were just as successful in cracking her puzzles as older rats.
Into the wild
After finishing her research at the JCU Animal Behaviour lab, Misha set up her puzzles in the tropical rainforest. Placing them only a few hundred metres away from the lab allowed Misha to study what wild animals were willing to do for a sweet treat. With this set-up, Misha was also able to study larger animals that didn’t fit into a lab setting, such as lace monitors, which can grow up to two metres in length.
Misha says she was surprised by the number of native species that made an on-camera appearance. “We counted over twenty different species, and that was just the start,” she says. “We also counted water rats and prehensile tailed rats, which are rarely recorded in this area. Moreover, we ended up recording seven species solving the problems, six of which no one had ever actually seen solve problems before."
Inclusive puzzles for the animal world
Different species have different ways of interpreting information, but also different ranges of movements, Misha says. This is why she chose multiple types of puzzles to make them accessible and entice different species. “I had things that they could push or pull or pick up, for instance,” she says. “We didn't want to choose a puzzle that was going to automatically limit which animal could solve it.”
Studying animals in the wild can be unpredictable and generate more than one surprising find. “In the lab, I was only ever measuring one individual mosaic-tailed rat at a time because the species is supposed to be fairly solitary,” Misha says.
“Mosaic-tailed rats can be quite territorial. However, out in the wild, I think it was around mating season for the rats, because we would often have some footage of a female with a male close behind,” Misha says. “Sometimes, one mosaic-tailed rat would already be there, and another would come to investigate what was going on, and there'd be a little squabble about who has a turn at solving the puzzle. So those kinds of social interactions around a problem-solving opportunity are really interesting.”