The Fast and the Furry-ous: Watch Rats Drive Tiny Cars in the Name of Science

Supersmario/iStock via Getty Images
Supersmario/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve ever driven to the grocery store to pick up some cereal, you might have more in common with rats than you previously thought.

According to New Scientist, Kelly Lambert and her colleagues at the University of Richmond recently discovered that the clever creatures can learn how to operate tiny cars when there are Froot Loops at the end of the ‘road.’

To build the car, they fitted a plastic food container with wheels, an aluminum floor, and a steering mechanism made from three copper bars. The rats could complete the electric circuit that powered the vehicle by standing on the aluminum floor and holding onto the bars, and they could steer by touching the left or right bars.

It’s a more complex task than the usual maze-related experiments we’re used to seeing, and the rats rose to the occasion admirably. The tests included 17 rats—six female and 11 male—who took turns driving the car in enclosures as large as about 43 square feet. The researchers varied the location of the Froot Loops so the rats would have to practice steering in order to reach their reward.

“They learned to navigate the car in unique ways and engaged in steering patterns they had never used,” Lambert told New Scientist.

The study not only proves that watching tiny animals drive tiny cars is adorable, it also suggests that learning to drive had an interesting therapeutic effect on the rats. Throughout the experiment, Lambert’s team measured two hormones in the rats’ feces: corticosterone, which indicates stress, and dehydroepiandrosterone, which relieves stress. As the rats became more skilled drivers, their dehydroepiandrosterone levels increased, and their corticosterone levels decreased. In other words, the rats relaxed once they mastered their task. Lambert has found the same pattern in other experiments that involve teaching rats new things; for example, learning how to dig up buried food also caused a decrease in corticosterone. The findings were published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.

It’s not all that different from what humans experience, which Lambert calls “self-efficacy or agency.” Mastering something new helps us feel like we can successfully take care of ourselves—maybe you even remember feeling pretty good when you learned how to drive a car.

Discovering that rats’ brains have such high neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to new challenges, gives scientists an opportunity to devise more complex experiments that relate more closely to human cognitive conditions, like Parkinson’s disease or depression.

It also proves that rats are a lot cooler and smarter than we like to give them credit for. From collapsing their skeletons to chomping through brick walls, here are some other talents you didn’t know they had.

[h/t New Scientist]

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture


This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Reason Your Dog Follows You Everywhere

Crew, Unsplash
Crew, Unsplash

Depending on your mood, a dog that follows you everywhere can be annoying or adorable. The behavior is also confusing if you're not an expert on pet behavior. So what is it about the canine companions in our lives that makes them stick by our sides at all times?

Most experts agree on a few different reasons why some dogs are clingy around their owners. One is their pack mentality. Dogs may have been domesticated thousands of years ago, but they still consider themselves to be part of a group like their wild ancestors. When there are no other dogs around, their human family becomes their pack. According to Reader's Digest, this genetic instinct is also what motivates dogs to watch you closely and seek out your physical touch.

The second reason for the behavior has to do with the bond between you and your pet. As veterinarian Dr. Rachel Barrack told the American Kennel Club, puppies as old as 6 months can imprint on their human owners like they would their own mothers. Even older dogs will bond with the humans in their lives who show them care and affection. In these cases, a dog will shadow its owner because it sees them as an object of trust and security.

The last possible explanation for why your dog follows you has more to do with your treatment of them than their natural instincts. A popular training tactic is positive reinforcement—i.e. rewarding a dog with treats, pets, and praise when they perform positive behaviors. The point is to help your dog associate good behaviors with rewards, but after a while, they may start to associate your presence with rewards as well. That means if your dog is following you, they may be looking for treats or attention.

A clingy dog may be annoying, but it usually isn't a sign of a larger problem. If anything, it means your dog sees you in a positive light. So enjoy the extra companionship, and don't be afraid to close the door behind when you need some alone time.