Navigation Links
Robosquirrels versus rattlesnakes
Date:4/3/2012

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 researchers thought the squirrels might be sending a signal to the snakes. But, with live squirrels, there is no way to separate tail flagging from tail heating.

Enter the robots. Joshi's engineering lab built a squirrel with a heatable tail and a tail flagging mechanism, each controlled separately.

Using the robosquirrel, Aaron Rundus, then a graduate student in Owings' lab and now an assistant professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, showed that the snakes responded to the heat signal from the squirrel.

"It was the first example of infrared communication in the animal world," Joshi said. That work was published in 2008: an article published in IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine in December, 2011, summarized much of the work to date.

Fieldwork is more challenging, he said. Ryan Johnson-Masters, a graduate student in Joshi's lab and now at the Sandia National Laboratory in Livermore, built a new robot with smaller and more robust controls that was easier to transport into the field.

The field season is fairly short, a few weeks in late spring and early summer when squirrel pups are born and rattlesnakes come hunting for them.

Then you need to find rattlesnakes in rough country.

"It's definitely an adventure," Joshi said.

Clark began collaborating with Owings and Joshi in 2007. Together, they wrote a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation to take the robosquirrel into the field. The grant was funded with $390,000 in 2010.

Once the researchers have located a foraging snake, they put down some track, set up the robosquirrel and a video camera to record the scene and retreat behind a blind. The snakes seem to accept the robosquirrel as real, Clark said. One of their videos shows a snake biting the robot's head.

Snakes will rarely strike at a flagging adult squirrel -- and if they do they almost always miss, Clark said.

"Squirrels have a remarkable ability to move out of the way of an oncoming snake strike," he said. Even adult squirrels that do not seem to be aware of a snake will often successfully dodge a strike.

Squirrel pups are much more vulnerable. They have less resistance to snake venom and seem more reckless in their behavior. They show the same displaying behavior as adults, but will get closer to snakes -- sometimes with fatal results.

Although not much is known about the mental abilities of rattlesnakes -- they are not ideal lab animals, after all -- they do behave in the field as if they are making complicated assessments about foraging behavior, Clark said. For example, they react differently to adult squirrels versus pups.

Why do squirrels approach the snakes at all? Clark says that they may be trying to assess the nature of the threat. Sometimes snakes will leave the area after encounters with squirrels.

Before joining the campus in 2001, Joshi worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on robots for space exploration. At UC Davis, Joshi began working with psychology professors including Owings and Jeffrey Schank. With Schank, he built robots that emulated the behavior of young rat pups -- revealing new insights into both rat behavior and robot design.

"The reason I'm so excited is that with robots we can really change how animal behavior studies are done," Joshi said.


'/>"/>

Contact: Andy Fell
ahfell@ucdavis.edu
530-752-4533
University of California - Davis
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. New discovery may lead to effective prevention and treatment of graft-versus-host dsease
2. Green fuel versus black gold
3. Forest health versus global warming: Fuel reduction likely to increase carbon emissions
4. Impulsive versus controlled men: Disinhibited brains and disinhibited behavior
5. Type 2 diabetes: Intensive versus conventional blood glucose control -- no clear picture
6. IVF treatment and multiple births: Free-market patient rights versus government regulation
7. Epigenetic memory key to nature versus nurture
8. Caltech: Gain and loss in optimistic versus pessimistic brains
9. Study shows value of sexual reproduction versus asexual reproduction
10. Rare fungus kills endangered rattlesnakes in southern Illinois
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Robosquirrels versus rattlesnakes
(Date:3/9/2016)... , March 9, 2016  Crossmatch ® , ... enrollment solutions, today announced the addition of smart ... Altus multi-factor authentication platform. New contextual and ... to step-up security where it,s needed most — ... Washington, DC . --> ...
(Date:3/3/2016)... DE SOTO, Kansas , March 3, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... offer Oncimmune,s Early CDT®-Lung, a blood test to ... lung cancer Early CDT®-Lung test to its ... --> Early CDT®-Lung test to its clients which ... Oncimmune, a leader in early cancer detection, today announced ...
(Date:3/1/2016)...  (RSAC Booth #3041) – True fraud costs business ... is lost to false positives, where good customers are ... At the RSA Conference 2016, NuData Security is calling for ... by devaluing the data fraudsters have in abundance in ... --> --> Cheap and readily ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:4/29/2016)... ... April 29, 2016 , ... Intelligent Implant Systems announced today that the ... for sale in the United States. These components expand the capabilities of the ... one-level sales beginning in October of 2015, the company has seen significant sales growth ...
(Date:4/28/2016)... PUNE, India , April 28, 2016 ... PT, JT, Stirling, and Brayton Cryocoolers), Service (Technical Support, ... Application, and Geography - Global Forecast to 2022", published ... to USD 2.94 Billion by 2022, at a CAGR ... Browse 70 market data Tables and 94 Figures spread ...
(Date:4/28/2016)... ... April 28, 2016 , ... ... Connecticut's innovative, growing companies, today announced the launch of VentureClash , a ... companies. , “VentureClash looks to attract the best early-stage companies here ...
(Date:4/28/2016)... York, NY (PRWEB) , ... April 28, 2016 ... ... QuickSTAT has made significant investments in recruiting top industry experts, and expanding its ... Platform, which provides industry-leading tools for clients to manage their clinical trial projects. ...
Breaking Biology Technology: