Acrobats and squirrels do parkour to get around | science | News | the sun

DrScientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have built custom obstacle courses to better understand how squirrels adjust their movements in flight to avoid fatal falls. They hope this research will one day help develop more agile robots.

“Squirrels have a range of characteristics that make them so interesting: on the one hand, their acrobatic nature, their biological mechanisms and their strong muscles, which they can use to jump many times the size of their bodies,” explained Nathan Hunt. , lead author of the study. On the other hand, their cognitive abilities. They have a very good memory, are very creative and are very good at finding solutions to problems.”

The research team used peanuts to lure them in. Perches are set up to mimic tree branches, forcing animals to jump varying distances to get their reward. The scientists wanted to note how the squirrels make their decisions in the face of a difficult compromise: approaching the edge of the perches reduced the distance to jump but harmed their stability, while reducing the thrust they could use, because the platform had become unstable. .

As a result, squirrels preferred to rise from the base of the perch, especially when the “branches” are less rigid. It turns out that the flexibility of roosts is six times more important in making a decision than the distance to be covered. No squirrels fell during the experiment, thanks to the various strategies – and their sharp claws.

The most surprising innovation: For the most difficult jumps, instead of shooting directly at the target, the squirrels used the sidewall as a “bounce” stage, thus apparently using the parkour technique, this system made famous by the Yamakase in France in the 1990s, when raptors chased the squirrels, can be Its flight played from a few centimeters, which is probably the reason for its great agility, according to Nathan Hunt.

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“It’s funny that this study was published, because people often see squirrels in their gardens,” he says. And he himself could not help but have other ideas of experiences by observing them, he admits.

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