Tag Archives: animal cognition

Squirrels and sports

Like me, squirrels seem to enjoy baseball. A squirrel named Crumbs likes to cheer on Maryland’s minor league team. An outfielder noted: “Every time we have seen him during games … something good has happened. He knows we got the W.”

Another squirrel in Cleveland ran onto the field during a game, and disappeared into the stands when stadium staff tried to chase him. The same squirrel received cheers from the crowd a few weeks later when he made an encore appearance.

And this squirrel couldn’t wait for the All Star Game to be over, running onto the field of the Detroit Tigers’ stadium at the first opportunity.

But squirrels aren’t exclusive to baseball. This squirrel got involved during the PGA golf tournament in Texas, barely missing being blasted by a drive.

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Squirrels and crime

A man in Tunbridge Wells in the UK is dragging a dead squirrel door to door, offering to inspect people’s rooftops and then telling them they need to give him money to fix the (non-existent) squirrel related damage. Police recommend calling them if you are offered such services by a unsolicited man carrying a dead squirrel.

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In Wisconsin, folks at a rummage sale called the police to complain that baby squirrels were “harassing them,” and police were also called to escort a “large squirrel” from someone’s bedroom in Salem, Massachussetts. That wasn’t the only squirrel break-in: a woman was terrified by a squirrel who broke into her home in Pennsylvania, and screamed really loudly. The family managed to get the squirrel out of the home without having to call the police.

In Spokane, residents are concerned after a mutilated squirrel was found hanging from a tree. There were no witnesses to the event. Across the pond, folks were horrified when a man ordered his dog to kill a squirrel in front of children.

Is it a crime if it’s an act of patriotism?

Squirrels in Texas stole several small American flags from a veteran’s yard. Turns out the flags make handy squirrel nest material!

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Squirrel steals eggs from (Easter) bunny

After thirty years of successful Easter Egg hunts, a Missouri park experienced plastic egg theft at the paws of a sneaky squirrel, who grabbed a purple plastic egg, carried it up a tree, and chewed large holes into it.

Trial opens and closes in attempted murder case over squirrel feeding

A Colorado man, Jon Barbour, shot his neighbor in the buttocks after a dispute over his squirrel-feeding habits, which the neighbor did not appreciate. Barbour claimed that feeding squirrels helped him commune with his dead parents. He was charged with attempted second-degree murder. Just five days later, he was found guilty. Sentencing will happen on August 4.

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When squirrels attack

Several children in Jacksonville, FL were trying to enjoy a stroll in a local park when one was scratched up by a squirrel. Officials felt certain the squirrel was not rabid, just hungry. In Moscow, ID, a woman reported to police that a one-eyed rabid squirrel attacked her and her child. The squirrel could not be located, and neither the woman nor her child were injured.

How often do squirrels attack? Turns out we don’t really know. Since squirrels don’t tend to carry serious diseases, such as rabies, the CDC does not track squirrel bites (and most squirrel bites are probably not reported). The Atlantic recently delved into this topic!

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Crime fighting squirrel

I previously reported on the “pet” squirrel who thwarted a burglar attempting to break into a gun safe. The squirrel has since been returned to the wild, perhaps to fight other crimes.

Squirrel rescue corner

Sometimes squirrels need a little help from humans. I’m not so sure this Boston squirrel was ashamed, but he was definitely buttery by the time rescuers were able to free him from a dumpster he was stuck in.

A baby squirrel was rescued from a busy NY roadway, by a police officer who kept him safe overnight. He was transferred to wildlife rescue the next day.

A DC squirrel was rescued from a fire in a house he had apparently been squatting in. Speaking of squatting, this squirrel was rescued from a toilet. But how did the squirrel get IN the toilet?

A man in Virginia trapped a squirrel and cut off a large ring that was stuck around her neck. The squirrel was freed and completely recovered.

She could use an orthodontist

Concerned citizens in Miami are trying to save a squirrel with a maloccluded tooth – that means her tooth is not growing properly. Squirrels with such dental problems often die because they cannot eat or because the tooth grows into their skull. I couldn’t find an update on Sabrina the snaggle-toothed squirrel.

 

A squirrel king

It’s not as regal as it sounds; a squirrel king is when a bunch of squirrels get tied together by their tails. Yes, this really happens! Recently, four baby squirrels in Maine ended up tangled together, and a nearby cat was thinking they would make a tasty meal. A man was able to catch the squirrels and allowed them to calm down in a box. “It was a like a dreadlock” – but after working at the tails for an hour and a half, the babies were set free at their nest tree, and returned to mom.

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Yet another squirrel bridge

Longview, WA is known for its yearly Squirrel Fest, and its many squirrel bridges that allow squirrels to cross roads without running into traffic. This year Longview added a fifth bridge to the mix. But do the squirrels even care? A town in Holland spent over 12000 euros on squirrel bridges, and a year later, they believe that ZERO squirrels have used it.

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Back when squirrels were pets

Atlas Obscura published this fascinating piece on the history of keeping squirrels as pets! There was a time where you could purchase a squirrel in a pet store; I think as cute as squirrels are, we are much better appreciating them out of doors!

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Science corner

A new publication out of Exeter, by my friend Pizza Chow, looked at whether squirrels could remember a problem they had solved almost two years earlier, and whether they could apply these skills to a new, similar problem. The answers are YES and YES!

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What helps baby red squirrels survive? Being born before the other squirrels in the neighborhood. “First out of the nest is best” – those squirrels have a better chance at establishing their own territory before competition sets it. It sounds like trying to find housing in the Bay Area.

Researchers in North Carolina recently discovered that North America is home to THREE, not two, species of flying squirrel. The Humboldt’s flying squirrel is currently the nation’s newest mammal discovery!

Your cat's sniffer is better than you thought

A recent paper by Kristen Shreve and Monique Udell reviews the importance of olfaction to cats, and how understanding this importance may help us better support feline welfare. In this interview, Shreve incorporates her recent work on training cats to suggest...perhaps a future role for cats as detection animals...search and rescue cats anyone?

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Pizza rat vs. Milkshake squirrel

I love urban wildlife and the way they have adapted to exploit the resources available to them in the environment, like human food waste. This week, pizza rat and milkshake squirrel highlighted rodents' ability to carry large food items, and digest a variety of foods.

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Not a bad way to wake up each morning.
Not a bad way to wake up each morning.

Another CO3 (Comparative Cognition Conference) has come and gone. Every year, a small (250-ish) group of scientists who study animals (from bees to humans) gathers on the beach in Melbourne, Florida to share snippets of research and make friends with others who share the same fascination with how animals think, solve problems, and perceive the world.

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Fish see illusions, just like us

Wahrnehmung_gesetzt_KontextWhich blue circle looks bigger? They're the same size. This illusion is called the "Ebbinghaus illusion" and it turns out, even fish are susceptible to this visual trickery. Some fish were trained to prefer large circles, and some to prefer small circles. Their test choice depended on the appearance of the circle in relation to a group of differently-colored, differently-sized circles.

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A closer look at the map behind cognitive maps and free speech for faculty

Edward Tolman is the man they named the Psych building for at UC Berkeley - but do you know about his contributions to the field of animal cognition? Or how he stood up for free speech in the age of McCarthyism? I wrote about him at the Berkeley Science Review!

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You can learn to love brown rice

Well it looks like the methods may be a little sketchy, but a small study suggests that people can learn to see healthy food as rewarding (and show less reward response in the brain to things like donuts and cookies). Can't we have it both ways? I love brown rice AND donuts.

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 Do dogs feel jealousy?

Most scientists agree that non-human animals feel the "basic" emotions - fear, anger, happiness, surprise - or at least the animal-equivalents. Behavioral and neurological studies support that animals have, to some degree, similar emotional experiences as we do.

When it comes to more complex emotions, such as guilt, embarrassment, and sympathy, we have much less empirical support. These emotional states may require some form of theory of mind or a level of self-consciousness that we aren't sure that animals have.

The new dog-jealousy study has gotten a lot of hype and press, and now everyone thinks dogs can feel jealous. Other studies have shown that anthropomorphism may play a huge role in how we interpret the "guilty look" in dogs. I think it's a bit strange that the human researchers find the evidence more compelling than the animal cognition experts and it would have been nice if they had included a dog-cog expert on their team.

Dog owners petted a stuffed dog (or read a book or paid attention to a jack o'lantern), and the behavior of their pet dog was measured. Dogs were more likely to bark or push on the owner or investigate the object when it was a stuffed dog. I think what we can all agree on - dogs attempt to get their owner's attention when it is directed elsewhere - attention is of course a resource that is important to many pets. You can read the study here - yay open access!

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Why isn't composting the norm?

I am lucky to live somewhere where we can put all of our food scraps in a compost bin and not into landfill. I'm very excited to see that NYC is following suit! I think some psychological science can be added to get everyone on board!

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The Camo-Corner

Camouflage is an amazing thing. This satanic leaf gecko has perfectly evolved to match its habitat -  even when that habitat varies.

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haresBut what about when that habitat has completely changed? Scientists examine the outlook of the snowshoe hare, an animal that typically changes color as the weather changes to match the presence of snow in the winter...but what happens when there's no snow?