Mice exhibit various species-typical behaviors such as digging and burrowing. They dig in the ground to find food, to hoard food, to create a refuge from predators or cold and to make a safe nursery area for the young. In the laboratory, mice dig vigorously in deep bedding such as wood chips. This behavior is sensitive to strain differences and drugs. For example, the effects of anxiolytics and 5-HT-active compounds, including those used clinically for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), can be detected. Digging can be quantified by manual timing. Alternatively, the bedding can be covered with glass marbles and the number buried can be counted after a set time. These behaviors can be assessed using very little specialized equipment, and results can be obtained from ten animals in about an hour. Species-typical behaviors may be sensitive to a wide variety of treatments, and their simplicity and ability to yield robust quantitative data might be particularly useful in assessing genetically modified mice, even in laboratories not primarily oriented to behavioral work.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $41.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Webster, D.G., Williams, M.H., Owens, R.D., Geiger, V.B. & Dewsbury D.A. Digging behavior in 12 taxa of muroid rodents. Anim. Learn. Behav. 9, 173–177 (1981).
Dudek, B.C., Adams, N., Boice, R. & Abbott, M.E. Genetic influences on digging behaviours in mice (Mus musculus) in laboratory and seminatural settings. J. Comp. Psychol. 97, 249–259 (1983).
Borsini, F., Podhorna, J. & Marazziti, D. Do animal models of anxiety predict anxiolytic effects of antidepressants? Psychopharmacology 163, 121–141 (2002).
Njung'e, K. & Handley, S.L. Evaluation of marble-burying behavior as a model of anxiety. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 38, 63–67 (1991).
Deacon, R.M.J. & Rawlins, J.N.P. Hippocampal lesions, species-typical behaviours and anxiety in mice. Behav. Brain Res. 156, 241–249 (2005).
Pinel, J.P.J. & Treit, D. Burying as a defensive response in rats. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 92, 708–712 (1978).
Poling, A., Cleary, J. & Monaghan, M. Burying by rats in response to aversive and nonaversive stimuli. J. Exp. Anal. Behav. 35, 31–44 (1981).
Broekkamp, C.L., Rijk, H.W., Joly-Gelouin, D. & Lloyd, K.L. Major tranquillizers can be distinguished from minor tranquillizers on the basis of effects on marble burying and swim-induced grooming in mice. Eur. J. Pharmacol. 126, 223–229 (1986).
Njung'e, K. & Handley, S.L. Effects of 5-HT uptake inhibitors, agonists and antagonists on the burying of harmless objects by mice: a putative test for anxiolytic agents. Brit. J. Pharmacol. 104, 105–112 (1991).
Shinomiya, K. et al. Effect of paroxetine on marble-burying behavior in mice. Methods Find. Exp. Clin. Pharmacol. 10, 685–687 (2005).
Li, X., Morrow, D. & Witkin, J.M. Decreases in nestlet shredding of mice by serotonin uptake inhibitors: Comparison with marble burying. Life Sci. 78, 1933–1939 (2006).
Londei, T., Valentini, A.M.V. & Lione, V.G. Investigative burying by laboratory mice may involve non-functional, compulsive behaviour. Behav. Brain Res. 94, 249–254 (1998).
Takeuchi, H., Yatsugi, S.-I. & Yamaguchi, T. Effect of YM992, a novel antidepressant with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitory and 5-HT2A receptor antagonistic activity, on a marble-burying behavior test as an obsessive-compulsive disorder model. Jpn. J. Pharmacol. 90, 197–200 (2002).
Ichimaru, Y., Egawa, T. & Sawa, A. 5-HT1A-receptor subtype mediates the effect of fluvoxamine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, on marble-burying behavior in mice. Jpn. J. Pharmacol. 68, 65–70 (1995).
Gyertyan, I. Analysis of the marble burying response: marbles serve to measure digging rather than evoke burying. Behav. Pharmacol. 6, 24–31 (1995).
Masuda, Y., Ishigooka, S. & Matsuda, Y. Digging behavior of ddY mouse. Exp. Anim. 49, 235–237 (2000).
Gray, J.A. & McNaughton, N. The Neuropsychology of Anxiety (2nd ed.). Oxford Univ. Press (2000).
Wicke, K. M. & Gross, G. Marble burying behavior is prevented by anxiolytics as well as by motorstimulants. Pharmacopsychiatry; 05, 2005 (lecture) http://www.thieme-connect.de/ejournals/abstract/pharmaco/doi/10.1055/s-2005-918875.
Millan, M.-J., Girardon, S., Mullot, J., Brocco, M. & Dekeyne, A. Stereospecific blockade of marble-burying behaviour in mice by selective, non-peptidergic neurokinin1 (NK1) receptor antagonists. Neuropharmacology 42, 677–684 (2002).
This work was supported by grant GR065438MA from the Wellcome Trust to the Oxford OXION group.
The author declares no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Deacon, R. Digging and marble burying in mice: simple methods for in vivo identification of biological impacts. Nat Protoc 1, 122–124 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nprot.2006.20
Characterization of the sensory, affective, cognitive, biochemical, and neuronal alterations in a modified chronic constriction injury model of neuropathic pain in mice
Journal of Neuroscience Research (2020)
Physiology & Behavior (2020)
Involvement of oxidative stress and mitochondrial mechanisms in air pollution-related neurobiological impairments
Neurobiology of Stress (2020)
Improved cognition, mild anxiety-like behavior and decreased motor performance in pyridoxal phosphatase-deficient mice
Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular Basis of Disease (2019)
NGL-1/LRRC4C-Mutant Mice Display Hyperactivity and Anxiolytic-Like Behavior Associated With Widespread Suppression of Neuronal Activity
Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience (2019)