Study sheds light on squirrel psychology

Jul 28, 2009
Study sheds light on squirrel psychology
Grey squirrels learn from observing others, according to a new study.

(PhysOrg.com) -- The ability of grey squirrels to learn from observing others is highlighted in a new study. The research shows how squirrels can quickly learn from watching their peers, particularly if it relates to stealing food. The research adds to growing evidence that animals are primed to learn quickly about what is most important to their survival and that they learn by observing others. It is the first study to test the ability of grey squirrels to learn from observation.

The research team tested the squirrels' ability to learn to choose between two pots of food after watching another squirrel remove a nut from one of the pots. One group was rewarded for choosing the same pot as the previous squirrel, the second group was rewarded for targeting the other pot. Those that were rewarded for choosing food from the other pot learned more quickly than those that were rewarded for choosing the same pot. This suggests that grey squirrels learn more quickly to recognise the absence of food.

The study was repeated, but instead of observing another squirrel, the animals were trained with the use of a card. In this test, the squirrels showed no significant difference in their ability to learn to choose the same or opposite pot.

The study suggests that squirrels are primed to recognise other squirrels as potential food thieves. It also shows that they learn more quickly from real life observations.

Corresponding author Dr Lisa Leaver of the University of Exeter, said: "Our study is significant because it is the first to show that grey squirrels learn from observing others. It adds to growing evidence that all kinds of animals, from humans and other primates to many species of birds, learn from observation and that they have evolved to learn quickly about those things that are most important to their lives - in the case of grey squirrels, gathering and storing ."

The research team now hopes to conduct further studies into the psychology of grey squirrels to learn more about how the learn from - and possibly deceive - one another.

Source: University of Exeter (news : web)

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New hope for the red squirrel

Oct 16, 2008

A number of red squirrels are immune to squirrelpox viral disease, which many believed would lead to the extinction of the species, scientists have discovered.

Research: Gray squirrel at risk in Britain

Apr 27, 2008

The gray squirrel population throughout Britain could soon be dominated by a mutant squirrel species whose numbers are dramatically rising, researchers say.

Juvenile Squirrels Need Some Stress Hormone to Learn

Mar 14, 2008

Tests on the influence that a stress-related hormone has on learning in ground squirrels could have an impact on understanding how it influences human learning, according to a University of Chicago researcher.

Nuts at dawn: Britain's squirrels fight for survival

Apr 23, 2009

Deep in the heart of England's seemingly peaceful countryside, a fierce battle for survival is being waged between the domestic red squirrel, its tougher grey cousin -- and a new mutant arrival.

Denver Zoo monkey dies of plague

May 22, 2007

A hooded capuchin monkey at the Denver Zoo has died of the plague, which officials suspect was transmitted by a squirrel.

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

kerry
not rated yet Jul 28, 2009
It would be great if squirrels at my campus could learn how NOT to jump into the street/sidewalk right when a car/bike is passing by..
louiswap
not rated yet Aug 03, 2009
I have heard that IQ is directly proportional to the head-to-body ratio. The larger the head is, compared to the rest of the body, the smarter the animal tends to be. I can believe this along the lines of the common squirrel.

In my life, I've raised 3 red & gray squirrels, and I know they are very intelligent animals. One learned, on its own, to open doors by jumping up to the knob, hugging the knob, and then spinning its body around. The squirrel had to reason through a number of 'cause and effects' to figure out such a plan.

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.