What is a squirrelbot?
We created a biomimetic model of the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Gray squirrels are native to North America and perform well in both rural and urban environments. When alarmed, squirrels respond with vocalizations and tail movements - our mechanical squirrel, covered in rabbit fur and otherwise resembling a squirrel, was capable of producing vocalizations (acquired from the Cornell Library of Sound) through a speaker mounted in front of the model and of moving its tail independent of the rest of the body. These signals could be triggered from a laptop either in combination or individually. To conceal the squirrelbot while not in use, a retractable camouflage hood covered the entire apparatus.
Multimodal Alarms Played Back to Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis)
We use a biomimetic squirrel model (“Rocky”) to mimic multiple components of gray squirrel alarm signals. The signal aspects, including vocal alarm and tail flagging, can be displayed separately or at once by Rocky, allowing us to parse apart the effects of modal channels in the signal.
Squirrels responding to the alarm call/behavior of the biomimetic model reacted most strongly to an integrated, multimodal (visual and acoustic) signal, demonstrating sensory enhancement. Squirrels in louder, more urban areas reacted less to acoustic alarm than more rural squirrels (Partan et al., 2010).
The main webpage for the Partan Lab's Squirrel Project can be found here.
Research was conducted in Amherst, Massachusetts, for the Partan Animal Behavior Lab at Hampshire College.