A study into the foraging habits of grey squirrels suggest the rodents demonstrate flexibility and persistence when problem solving, even at the risk of slowing down their hunt for food. Jim Drury reports.
Leonard tries to reach his next meal. He was one of a batch of grey squirrels tasked with navigating this specially designed box to grab a hazelnut. Researchers at the University of Exeter's Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour, studied the rodents' behavioural selectivity. They found the creature learnt to solve the puzzle quickly, indicating flexibility and persistence in their problem solving abilities. SOUNDBITE (English) STUDY CO-AUTHOR, DR LISA LEAVER, UNIVERSITY OF EXETER, SAYING: "We were surprised to find that flexibility was stable across trials learning how to use this apparatus, and that indicates that it might be more like what you would call a personality trait than something that they can change across learning...it's an indication that it is a much more stable trait in individual animals." However, the squirrels' tendency to flip between behavioural tactics, the researcher's measure of flexibility, sometimes increased the time it took to grab food. SOUNDBITE (English) STUDY CO-AUTHOR, DR LISA LEAVER, UNIVERSITY OF EXETER, SAYING: "To know that it's not necessarily involved in helping animals learn, and in fact it might actually be costly is really interesting because it might change the way that we look at how animals solve problems in the wild, and also how an invasive species might or might not be successful when it faces and enters a new environment." The team now wants to compare the rodent's foraging behaviour with that of its cousin, the red squirrel. ...while for Leonard practice seems to make perfect.