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Hungry Rodents are Risky Early-Risers, New Study Finds

Ocelots Hunting
Ocelots hunt at night. Agoutis look for food during the day. Hungry agoutis may extend their foraging times and are more likely to be eaten. (Image credit: Christian Ziegler)

Early-rising rodents should resist the temptation to search for breakfast, that is, unless they hope to become breakfast themselves, according to a recent study from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.  

Researchers tracked agoutis, a common rainforest rodent, and their feline predator, the ocelot, day and night, seven days a week with the use of radio collars via an automated telemetry system located on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. This system gave scientists the ability to monitor the animals' activity online. 

"Agoutis eat tree seeds. Ocelots eat agoutis," said Patrick Jansen, research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and assistant professor at Wageningen University in Netherlands. "Where food is hard to find, agoutis spend more time foraging and are more likely to be eaten by an ocelot." 

Using camera traps placed throughout the island, scientists first recorded daily activity patterns of agoutis and ocelots to determine when it was dangerous for agoutis to be active.  The researchers found that agoutis were most active in the daytime and ocelots were most active at night. 

"We knew that hungry animals tend to take more risks," Jansen said in a statement. "But this is the first study to so thoroughly document the behavior of both predator and prey."

The study was detailed in the December 2013 early online edition of Animal Behavior

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Nina Sen
Nina Sen is a frequent contributor to Live Science’s Life’s Little Mysteries series: an exploration and explanation of our world’s phenomena, both natural and man-made. She also writes astronomy photo stories for Live Science's sister site