Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Mission Impossible Squirrel

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I thought I had linked to this video a few months ago, but apparently it disappeared during one of the typical burps that my wifi connection experiences (well, I deserve it since I am piggybacking on someone else’s connection, unless I have dragged myself in to the library). Anyway, this video is truly amazing, showing what a squirrel will do to get a nut. It also has a short video clip of another squirrel that has figured out how to steal candy bars from an outdoor candy machine [1:52].

Comments

  1. #1 Moopheus
    November 29, 2007

    That’s pretty good, though it does make it seem like stealing has a better payoff calorie-wise for the squirrel than working.

    Not long ago I was looking out my kitchen window and saw a squirrel climbing down from the roof of the house next door, trying to get into a window. But it ended up clinging precariously to the vinyl siding, and when it realized it couldn’t get back up onto the roof (we saw it trying), it tried to go sideways, but slipped and fell two stories to the ground. Not as smart as these guys, I guess.

  2. #2 Christopher
    November 29, 2007

    The reggae Mission Impossible theme is great.

    Was at a friend’s house recently admiring the bird-feeder when I realized that it had a switch on the side. When I asked why, they told me that it was electrified. They had had a number of different supposedly “squirrel-proof” feeders in the past none of which worked, until this one.
    It had multiple holes spaced at different levels for dispensing food each with a little perch (a small metal bar) for the bird. If a line of contact was created between any two perches…ZAPP!!! The birds were safe, and squirrels apparently steered clear of the bird feeder.

  3. #3 Mark P
    November 29, 2007

    I wonder how many tries it took before the squirrel was able to make it all the way. If it failed at any step, it would have to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

  4. #4 "GrrlScientist"
    November 29, 2007

    the electrified bird feeder is a great idea.

    the squirrel probably made it all the way fairly quickly. i think the person who set up the obstacle course noticed the squirrels stealing nuts from the feeder, and added more and more obstacles that the squirrels had to overcome just to see what the squirrels would do to get a nut. that’s my guess, but it makes sense; when training an animal to do something, it is best to train them how to do the last part of the behavior first, and then add more and more behaviors that precede the end goal behavior. this also works wonderfully for humans who are learning new behaviors, or who are memorizing large passages of text, etc.

    if i had a yard of my own, i’d also work on a squirrel obstacle course, just to amuse myself.

  5. #5 Tabor
    November 29, 2007

    As I have frequently said…you can’t fool mother nature.

  6. #6 lectric lady
    November 29, 2007

    Mark P:
    They probably trained the squirrel one step at a time. Start at the beginning of the sequence with a nut at the top of the pole. Second, have him learn to jump from the pole to another pole for the nut. Then add another element, and so on, until you run out of crap to fill up your yard.

    This is called training by successive approximations, and is very commonly used by animal trainers.

  7. #7 Drake
    November 29, 2007

    My wife and returned home one day not long after Easter to find a squirrel running along the top of wooden fence parallel to our apartment with a conspicuous purple egg, which we recognized as being from our stash of Easter candy. Inside our locked apartment.

    Seems our little friend had somehow chipped away at the corners of one or levolors just enough to get at the handle, open the slates, then slip inside to get to the candy.

  8. #8 Jim Thomerson
    November 30, 2007

    That looks very much like footage from the first of two British TV programs; Daylight Robbery, and Daylight Robbery, Part 2. Really good programs. At the end of the first program they showed a “squirrel proof” bird feeder. I saw these in use in Kew Gardens. In Part 2, they show how the squirrels beat the squirrel proof feeder.

  9. #9 David Harmon
    December 5, 2007

    Yeah, that electrified bird feeder sounds like an interesting idea… I can think of ways that a squirrel potentially could “foil” it, but it’s another question entirely whether they could figure it out.

    The candy thief offers a nice object lesson in threat analysis: The machine’s chute barrier is designed to prevent a human from reaching in there, and specifically against our lengthy, rigid forearms. It’s no help against something small and flexible….

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