Overview and Meaning
Exploration is performed to provide the animal with information from its surroundings, or to locate particular items (e.g. food) or individuals (e.g. mates or competitors) in the environment.
Exploration is a top-level classification, reflecting a Behavior chain of individual goal-directed behaviors, which typically occur in the following sequence:
Exploration occurs in three main contexts, Social, Food, and Environmental. However, the context is not normally apparent until the Investigate stage of the behavior chain. Furthermore, unless food is dispersed on the cage floor (as might be provided for enrichment), this context is rarely observed in a mouse cage.
Variants in the chain typically involve skipping elements in the chain - for instance, an animal exploring a potentially dangerous area will not start searching the area, but will first start with Investigate - stretched attend postures (a misnamed variant of Investigate behaviors) from a safe location into the dangerous location.
Exploration is typically a very fluid behavior, especially in the confines of a mouse cage, and animals will switch back and forth between behaviors in the chain very quickly, in a variety of permutations.