Robot squirrels from the University of California, Davis, are going into rattlesnake country near San Jose, continuing a research project on the interaction between squirrels and rattlesnakes.
In the lab, robot squirrels have shown how squirrels signal to snakes with heat and tail flagging. Through field experiments, researchers from San Diego State University and UC Davis aim to learn more about rattlesnake behavior.
It's not the only use of robots to study animal behavior at UC Davis. Terry Ord, a former postdoctoral researcher now at Harvard University, used robot lizards to study display behavior by anole lizards in the jungles of Puerto Rico. Gail Patricelli, professor of evolution and ecology, has used a camera-equipped robot sage grouse hen to study the mating behavior of these prairie birds.
The collaboration is giving biologists new tools for their work -- and also helping engineers design new and better machines.
The research on the long struggle between California ground squirrels and their main predator, rattlesnakes, began at UC Davis under the leadership of psychology professor Donald Owings, an expert on animal behavior, who died in 2011.
Sanjay Joshi, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC Davis, built the original "robosquirrels" for Owings, and is now working with Rulon Clark, assistant professor of biology at San Diego State University and an expert on snake behavior.
The research then and now centers on two squirrel behaviors in reaction to rattlesnakes: a tail flagging movement and the warming of the tail. Owings, with Professor Richard Coss and colleagues, observed that when adult squirrels detect a snake, they approach it head-first in an elongated posture, making flagging movements with their tails. Owings and Coss noticed that when confronting a rattlesnake, the squirrels also heated their tails.
Because rattlesnakes can "see" in the infrared, the researcher
|Contact: Andy Fell|
University of California - Davis