Where Lab Mice Tickle: Science More Than Art


MELBOURNE, Australia — Usually not a good time to be a rodent in Australia. On farms across the country, rats are poisoned and chased through the fields by desperate farmers. worst rat plagues in living memory.

But in a lab in the nation’s capital, Canberra, a select group of lab rats had a rather different experience. The researchers tickled them every day for a month to see if it would improve their emotional well-being and perhaps make them better models for research.

According to one study, “It is widely accepted that happy animals lead to better research outcomes and ultimately better patient care, so we are always looking for new techniques, equipment and skills to evolve.” banner About the project from the Center for Health and Medical Research in Canberra.

“Rat tickling is a technique used by animal technicians to mimic the game-fighting behavior of baby mice. By engaging in this behavior with our mice, we aim to reduce the impact of handling and increase positive associations with human interaction.”

Mice in captivity have been tickled in England and elsewhere. Rats made ultrasonic vocalizations when tickled and subjected to other soft touches on different body parts. previous experiments have shown. However, it appears to be the first time a practical experiment has been conducted in Australia.

In 2019, the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra is its largest city) became the first jurisdiction in the country to recognize it. animals as sentient beingsand punished for their ill-treatment.

So how do you tickle a mouse?

According to Carlee Mottley, a laboratory animal technician and certified mouse tickler at the University of Wollongong, it’s more of a science than an art (no, really, there is an online course for this.)

“There is a right and wrong way to tickle a mouse,” said Ms. Mottley, who was not involved in the experiment at the headquarters in Canberra. “If you do it the wrong way, it may not benefit. At best, they won’t know what you’re doing, and at worst, it could hurt them.”

According to the center’s researchers, there are three convenient ways to tickle a mouse.

  • Dorsal contact: Touch the back of the mouse’s neck with quick, light movements. Avoid the tail and hips, as these areas are where the aggression of other mice is directed.

  • Flipping: Gently hold the mouse around its front legs and lift while twisting your wrist to turn the mouse on its back. The center said this move is “the hardest but most rewarding part of rat tickling,” because it closely mimics what happens when rats wrestle.

  • Fixation: Tickle the mouse between its front legs and chest while applying firm, steady pressure to hold the mouse on its back.

And what’s it like to tickle a mouse?

“Fun,” said Mrs. Mottley. “The final step is to turn them around and let them go, they’ll turn around and come straight back,” he said. “If you reach out to tickle them again, they will try to climb on your arm because they want more.”

Ian Allsop, principal investigator and senior animal technician at the Center for Health and Medical Research, said in an email that the project “truly promotes existing and well-tested research on improving rat welfare through tickling.”

Technicians in Canberra tickled a group of mice daily for four weeks and tracked their reactions. Another control group, unfortunately, went ticklish.

The researchers found that tickled rats generally responded better to human use and were less frightened. And it wasn’t just mice that had a good time. “Tickling is fun for techs too!” the center said in its poster, where it shared its results.

Paul McGreevy, professor of animal behavior and welfare at the University of New England, cautions.

“It would be a mistake to assume that all rats are interested in tickling and to assume that all humans are equally good at tickling rats,” he said.

He added that just like humans, different rodents have individual preferences for how they like to be tickled.

“Some will be totally handled, some will please the tickle if done well, and others will want to avoid any physical pressure put on them,” he said.

“If there was a way for each mouse to get the tickling dose they wanted, that would be ideal.”


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