Foraging in the subterranean social highveld mole-rat (Cryptomys hottentotus pretoriae): an investigation into mass-dependent geophyte use and foraging patterns

Authors


*All correspondence to: N. C. Bennett. E-mail: ncbennett@zoology.up.ac.za

Abstract

The foraging behaviour of captive colonies of the highveld mole-rat Cryptomys hottentotus pretoriae was investigated in an artificial soil-filled burrow system provided with four trays (patches) that varied in geophyte density and mass. An initial trial involving empty trays (only soil) revealed that there was no preference for any specific tray. There were no statistically significant preferences for excavating in any of the patches of different geophyte density. No preferences were evident for excavation in patches containing geophytes of different mass classes. Empty patches seemed to be preferred over patches containing geophytes when combinations of geophyte density/mass were investigated. The duration of handling and the rate of consumption of geophytes were recorded for 23 individuals of two mass classes. Handling time of geophytes was not related to mole-rat sex, but was strongly linked to mole-rat mass class. Handling time of geophytes was related to geophyte mass class. Small geophytes were less profitable to consume. These findings are considered in light of optimal foraging theory and the situation in the field. It was concluded that the mole-rats generally followed the qualitative predictions of optimal foraging theory, although falling short of being energy maximizers.

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