Here’s one a couple months old. The 20 January 2008 edition of the Toronto Star reported on two new stuides about the brains of squirrels.
First, from the journal Animal Behaviour (which sounds like something I need to be reading!), biologist Michael Steele at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania has been examining how squirrels cache nuts. Apparently, they’re concerned enough about theft to “fake it” sometimes:
While the furry-tailed creatures made a show of digging a hole in the ground and covering it with dirt and leaves when watched, one time out of five they were faking and nothing was buried. The proportion of phony caching increased after the squirrels saw their morsels being filched by undergrads who had kept a keen watch on where the nuts were really buried. Steele speculates that the squirrel brains have an inkling about the intention to steal, by either two- or four-legged thieves.
The second study is interesting, too. Some squirrels in the southwestern part of the United States are bitter enemies with the rattlesnake. Their bodies provide some defense (they can tolerate snake venom), but they’ve also developed special behaviors to avoid being attacked in the first place:
Animal-behaviour researcher Barbara Clucas, at the University of California, Davis, investigated how squirrels employ false scent to reduce detection in the first place.Scientists had already discovered that squirrels will chew on discarded rattlesnake skins and then vigorously lick their fur, effectively applying an olfactory camouflage.
This might have been a way to repel fleas or drive away other squirrels. In the current issue of the Royal Society’s Proceedings B, Clucas and colleagues ruled out these two possibilities. By recording the rate of tongue flicking, they showed that rattlesnakes were more attracted to squirrel scent on its own than to squirrel scent combined with their own snaky scent.
“Snaky scent” — ha!
[Toronto Star: A week’s worth of science news — Squirrel Smarts]