Faecal avoidance and selective foraging: do wild mice have the luxury to avoid faeces?

Patrick Walsh, Erin McCreless, Amy Pedersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Host-parasite interactions are a key determinant of the population dynamics of wild animals, and behaviours that reduce parasite transmission and infection may be important for improving host fitness. While antiparasite behaviours have been demonstrated in laboratory animals and domesticated ungulates, whether these behaviours operate in the wild is poorly understood. Therefore, examining antiparasite behaviours in natural populations is crucial for understanding their ecological significance. In this study, we examined whether two wild rodents (white-footed mice, Peromyscus leucopus, and deer mice, Peromyscus maniculatus), selectively foraged away from conspecific faeces or avoided faeces altogether, and whether faecal gastrointestinal parasite status affected their behaviour. We also tested whether wild mice, when nesting, avoided using material that had previously been used by healthy or parasite-infected conspecifics. Our results, in contrast to laboratory mouse studies, suggest that wild mice do not demonstrate faecal avoidance, selective foraging or selective use of nesting material; they preferred being near faeces and did not differentiate between faeces from parasitized and uninfected conspecifics. Behavioural avoidance to reduce parasite infection may still represent an important strategy; however, mice in our study population appeared to favour the opportunity to feed and nest over the risks of coming into contact with faecal-transmitted parasites. Furthermore, the presence of conspecific faeces may actually provide a positive cue of a good foraging or nesting location. Ultimately, balancing the trade-off of performing antiparasite behaviours to reduce infection with missing an important feeding or nesting opportunity may be very different for animals in the wild facing complex and stochastic environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-566
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
Early online date22 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2013


  • antiparasite behaviour
  • faecal avoidance
  • faecal-oral transmission
  • feeding behaviour
  • laboratory mouse
  • parasite
  • Peromyscus
  • selective foraging
  • wild immunology


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