Characterization of Social Behavior in the Spiny Mouse (Acomys cahirinus) Open Access

Fricker, Brandon (Summer 2021)

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While there are many species that are commonly used for the study of mammalian social behavior, there remains a need for lab-suitable organisms that are appropriate for examining sociality specifically in non-reproductive contexts (i.e., social behavior not in the context of mating or parenting). The spiny mouse, Acomys cahirinus, is a large-group living, cooperatively breeding rodent that holds great potential for studying a wide range of social behaviors in reproductive and non-reproductive contexts. Here we characterize basic social behaviors in male and female spiny mice to obtain a foundation for future study. We tested adult spiny mice in social approach, social preference, social interaction, social recognition, and group size preference paradigms. Regardless of sex, novelty, or familiarity, we found that both males and females rapidly approach conspecifics demonstrating high social boldness. Additionally, both sexes are significantly more prosocial than aggressive when freely interacting with conspecifics. However, we observed effects of sex on social preferences, such that males exhibit a preference to affiliate with same-sex conspecifics, whereas females exhibit a preference for affiliating with opposite-sex conspecifics. We discuss how this preference may relate to the cooperative breeding system of spiny mice. Lastly, both sexes show a robust preference for affiliating with large over small groups, indicating they may be an ideal species for the study of mammalian gregariousness. These data lay a basic foundation for future studies that seek to assess complex group dynamics and the mechanisms underlying reproductive and non-reproductive social behaviors in a highly social mammal.

Table of Contents


1.      Social approach ethogram.

2.      Social Interaction ethogram.

3.      Social preference ethogram.

4.      Social recognition ethogram.

5.      Group size preference ethogram.

6.      Breakdown of behavior during social interaction tests.

7.      Differences in time engaged in a behavior based on stimulus sex during the social interaction test.


1.      Spiny mice exhibit an effect of sex on investigation of conspecifics during social approaches.

2.      Spiny mice engage in high levels of non-overt and overt prosocial behavior in social interactions.

3.      Spiny mice exhibit social preferences based on sex.

4.      Spiny mice display social discrimination in social recognition test.

5.      Spiny mice prefer larger groups over smaller groups.

S1. Spiny mice rapidly approach all conspecifics

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