Squirrels use acrobatic moves to navigate branches

Squirrels use a combination of brains and agility to stick landings and avoid falling when navigating across narrow branches on treetops. Researchers published a study on fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) skills in Science seeking to determine how the rodents are able to accomplish these feats. After designing an artificial forest obstacle course close to the University of California, Berkeley campus, they lured the squirrels into tests of their movements. The team found that the arboreal species make quick calculations to decide whether to leap based on the flexibility of the branches and the distance to the next one. They also exhibited quick learning, knowing what to do when they came across the same branches. High-speed camera footage they used also showed that the squirrels used gymnastic-style moves to stick their landings. This study is “a great example of how cool ‘normal’ animals can be in their biomechanics,” said Michelle Graham, a graduate student in biomechanics at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg who was not involved with the research.

Read more in Science News.

Watch a video of the squirrels in the experiment below:


Header Image: Fox squirrels make quick decisions and acrobatic skills to stick their landings. Credit: Franco Folini