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Squirrels have different personalities just like humans, study finds

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Whether they’re cheeky, shy, aggressive or even polite, squirrels have different personalities just like people, a new study shows.

Researchers conducted four personality tests on the golden-mantled ground squirrel (Callospermophilus lateralis), a species native to western North America.

Data collected over three years showed that individual squirrels “differed consistently” in four main characteristics: activity, sociability, daring and aggressiveness.

Although the squirrels also showed less sociable personality types, such as shyness.

The study is the first to document the chipmunk-like species’ personality, which is antisocial, meaning it generally avoids social interaction.

Gold-cloaked ground squirrels (pictured) have different personalities, researchers at the University of California, Davis found.

WHAT IS THE GOLD LINED GROUND SQUIRREL?

The little squirrel-like squirrel species is native to western North America.

It is generally found in coniferous and mixed coniferous-hardwood forests. It is also common in mountainous areas.

The squirrel eats seeds, nuts and fruits, green plants, some insects and underground fungi.

The gold-clad ground squirrel cleans itself by rolling in the dirt and combing its fur with its teeth and claws.

Gold-mantled ground squirrels are considered an antisocial species.

They are relatively small, giving them little opportunity to form the closer social bonds common with larger ground squirrels, who typically spend more time in family units as they mature.

Source: nhpbs.org

“This adds to the small but growing body of research showing that individuals matter,” said study lead author Jaclyn Aliperti of the University of California, Davis.

“Taking into account personality in wildlife management may be especially important in predicting wildlife responses to new conditions, such as habitat changes or destruction due to human activity.”

Although the scientific field of animal personality is relatively young, the researchers emphasize that it is important because there are ecological consequences of different animal personalities.

For example, bolder, more aggressive squirrels can find more food or defend a larger territory, but their risky behavior can also leave them vulnerable to accidents or being caught by predators.

Gold-mantled ground squirrels are generally considered a sociopathic species, meaning they keep to themselves and can even be hostile to others of the same species.

They are relatively small, giving them little opportunity to form the closer social bonds common with larger ground squirrels, who typically spend more time in family units as they mature.

For the study, Aliperti and her team of co-authors conducted the experiments at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, which has been conducting tests for more than 30 years.

They observed and recorded squirrels’ responses to four tests: ‘new environment’, ‘mirror’, ‘flight initiative’ and ‘behaviour-in-trap’.

A gold-cloaked ground squirrel watches its reflection in a UC Davis mirror simulation experiment

A gold-cloaked ground squirrel watches its reflection in a UC Davis mirror simulation experiment

THE FOUR TESTS PERFORMED ON THE SQUIRREL

– New Environment: Squirrels were placed in a closed box with gridded lines and holes.

– Mirror: Squirrels are shown their mirror image, which they do not recognize as their own.

– Flight Initiative: Squirrels in the wild were approached slowly to see how long they wait before running away.

– Behavior in the trap: Squirrels were caught unharmed in a simple trap and their behavior was briefly observed.

For a new environment, the squirrels were placed in a sealed box with gridded lines and holes.

This test is often used to measure activity (especially the tendency to move) and exploration (the tendency to explore).

Second, in front of a mirror, squirrels were shown their reflection, which they do not recognize as their own. Time was measured in ‘interaction’ with the mirror, looking at the mirror and looking away from the mirror.

Interaction with the mirror took the form of the front leg or nose touching the mirror surface.

‘[This is] similar nose-to-nose and fore-paw-to-body greetings often observed under natural conditions and interpreted as friendly social interactions, usually between littermate puppies and their mother,” the authors say.

For the third test — flight initiative — squirrels were slowly approached in the wild to see how long they waited before running away and how far they fled.

The distance at which an animal flees from an approaching human—a perceived threat—measures individual differences in embarrassment. Shy individuals tend to run further away than bolder individuals.

Finally, behavior-in-trap involved trapping squirrels unharmed in a simple trap so that the behavior could be observed briefly – for example, docility, which can be measured as a person’s tendency to remain calm when trapped. .

The gold-cloaked ground squirrel (Callospermophilus lateralis) is often mistaken for a chipmunk because of its appearance.  It has a gray brown fur on top with two white stripes bordered by black stripes on the sides

The gold-cloaked ground squirrel (Callospermophilus lateralis) is often mistaken for a chipmunk because of its appearance. It has a gray brown fur on top with two white stripes bordered by black stripes on the sides

Overall, the study found that the bolder squirrels had larger core areas where they concentrated their activity, compared to shy individuals.

Core areas are defined as an area within which an animal or group of animals can safely rest or take food to eat.

Tough, active squirrels also moved faster, and squirrels that were bolder, more aggressive, and more active had more access to perches, such as rocks.

Images of a gold-cloaked ground squirrel in the arena during (a) an open field and (b) mirror image stimulation trial

Images of a gold-cloaked ground squirrel in the arena during (a) an open field and (b) mirror image stimulation trial

Access to the perch is important as it can provide a better vantage point for seeing and dodging predators. Interestingly, access to perch was also associated with sociability.

In general, individual gold-clad ground squirrels that tend to be more sociable appear to have an advantage, the authors report. In fact, being more sociable could save someone’s life.

It can affect a squirrel’s ability to survive and reproduce, which can scale up to the population or community level.

Fortunately, the gold-mantled ground squirrel is not threatened by conservation and populations are listed as ‘stable’ on the IUCN’s Red List.

But the findings suggest it’s important to understand how an animal’s personality influences the use of space for wildlife conservation.

“We hope that our study will inspire future research that links animal personality to spatial ecology to inform wildlife management in natural ecosystems,” the authors say in their paper, published in the journal animal behavior.

SQUIRREL JUMPING AND LAND AS PARKOUR ARTISTS, STUDY SHOWS

Squirrels are like human parkour athletes when it comes to jumping from one place to another quickly, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley filmed squirrel movements as the creatures made their way across a homemade outdoor obstacle course.

The cute critters devise “parkour-like” maneuvers to achieve particularly difficult landings, according to the findings.

Images from the study show a squirrel searching for nuts using the wall in a parkour-like motion

Images from the study show a squirrel searching for nuts using the wall in a parkour-like motion

They can skillfully reorient their bodies to push off vertical surfaces during tricky jumps between branches in the search for nuts, the study shows.

The athletic and dangerous art of parkour includes running, jumping, climbing and quadrupedalism (using all four limbs) as you move through different terrains.

Parkour is derived from the French word Parcours which means ‘route’ or ‘parcours’.

It includes running, jumping, climbing and quadrupedalism (using all four limbs) as you move through different terrains.

According to professional parkour athlete Lorena Abreu, parkour is more functional and efficient than “freerunning,” which is more about creative flips and trips, although the two terms are used interchangeably.

Read more: Study shows how squirrels jump and land without falling

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