The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Running wheels not just for domestic critters


Sharna Johnson

Local columnist

Round and round and round it goes — everybody feels a little caught in the wheel sometimes — lots of momentum, but no results.

Sure, it’s real easy to look at the repetition of it all and give in to futility and exhaustion when it’s all effort and no prize — the feeling can be downright discouraging even.

But that’s not a very Zen way to look at things when everybody knows it’s the journey, not the destination that counts.

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Well, maybe not everybody knows the running and round and round part is the actual prize, but there are those out there get it.

So what if they’re mice, frogs, slugs and shrews (and maybe eastern philosophy partakers, and a few remaining hippies).

Point is they really do dig the journey.

Long thought to be an ironic, possibly torturous device, the running wheel added to mouse cages has almost seemed a sour consolation of sorts, something given to help them kill time and maybe get a little exercise.

Those pets who actually use their wheels often begin to appear almost neurotic in their fervor to push that wheel as far as it can go. They can spend hours upon hours running and running as if they have come to believe it will actually take them somewhere, or worse yet, having lost all intelligent thought to the mesmerizing tail-chase of nothingness. And it always seems a natural conclusion that they do it because they are forced to live in a boring, artificial environment, deprived of the joys of their true lives.

Apparently that thinking is nothing more than the throbbing of guilty captor conscience, ‘cause according to scientists, they really do like it.

Placing running wheels in the wild over a near four-year period, Dutch researchers discovered that undomesticated critters jumped on and went for a whirl without prompting and not only that, once they figured it out, they came back and ran some more.

Among those wildlings observed using the running wheels, mice topped the list, accounting for 88 percent, however, surprisingly enough, slugs came in a distant second, followed by rats, shrews, frogs and snails.

Aside from what seems the most obvious curiosity of the whole thing — What? Slugs, frogs and snails? — the researchers sought to address the second pressing question of why.

Acknowledging that running in a wheel is, “repetitive, invariant and devoid of obvious goal or function,” they admitted it was hard to imagine what motivated creatures to jump in a wheel and run nowhere when they had complete freedom and plenty of other ways with which they could chose to spend their time.

One theory is that running in a wheel satisfies a drive such as playing or the drive to escape or that it serves as a physical response to the feeling of hunger or drive to forage.

Theories aside, the one conclusion the team reached without doubt was that nobody made them do it; they ran (or hopped or squirmed) in the wheel of their own accord and some of them got enough of something out of it that they kept doing it.

Maybe what scientists observed was critters in the throws of discovering rolling round things move faster than feet and have mobility potential if they can be loosed from their moorings.

Perhaps scientists have introduced a mesmerizing and euphoric addiction into the wild kingdom with pandemic implications.

Or, like climbing a mountain when there’s a perfectly good road around, maybe the critters just took the wheel for a spin because it was there -- an endeavor apparently even worthy of mice, and slugs, every now and Zen.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: [email protected]


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