Squirrel Tricks

Remember Rocky J. Squirrel? His parkour skills were NUTS! 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Running, climbing, swinging, vaulting – parkour athletes trick through challenging courses as quickly as possible. This skillset takes hundreds of hours of practice. But squirrels? They do these stunts instinctively! HOW exactly? 

Nathaniel Hunt and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley put these rodents to the test. 

They designed an artificial obstacle course and wheeled it into the REAL forest! The branches varied in flexibility and gaps between. Fox squirrels were baited to run the course with a peanut prize. Using cameras and mathematical models, researchers captured their launches, body orientations, and landing maneuvers.

And? Not a single squirrel fell! They chose which branches to jump off based on gap distance and flexibility. They determined how hard to jump after a few tries on the same branch. During difficult leaps, seventy-five percent of squirrels used parkour maneuvers, like flipping mid-air! 

The team thinks this research could inform the next generation of agile, nimble robots.   

Fox squirrels are parkouring masters! In a nutshell.

Reference: Hunt, N. H., Jinn, J., Jacobs, L. F., & Full, R. J. (2021). Acrobatic squirrels learn to leap and land on tree branches without falling. Science, 373(6555), 697-700. DOI: 10.1126/science.abe5753