In subterranean species where excavation is energetically expensive, efficient
spatial navigation is vital to reducing the costs of locating important resources such as food
and mates. While spatial navigational ability is positively correlated with sociality in
subterranean mammals, we have a less clear understanding of the role of habitat complexity
on navigational ability. We tested spatial navigational ability and memory in 12-18 month
captive Natal mole-rats (Cryptomys hottentotus natalensis) maintained in a simple
environment with no environmental enrichment and newly captured wild individuals from
natural, complex burrow systems. In maze trials, mole-rats captured freshly from the wild made significantly fewer navigational errors, were more likely to successfully navigate the
maze, travelled shorter distances and as a consequence, completed the maze in less time.
Male mole-rats from both experimental treatments were more likely to complete the maze
than females. Memory retention of the maze was tested on day two, seven, 30 and 60
respectively. The results were variable, although both groups showed a significant memory
retention 60 days after testing. Our results highlight the potential importance of the
environment (microhabitat complexity) on spatial cognitive performance in mole-rats.