Acrobats, squirrels use parkour to get around (study)

According to a new study published Thursday in the prestigious journal Science, squirrels’ acrobatic leaps rely on complex calculations performed in a fraction of a second and these rodents have developed surprising strategies, sometimes used in the urban discipline of parkour. The ones are similar.

Scientists at UC Berkeley have created bespoke obstacle courses to better understand how squirrels adjust their movements in flight to avoid fatal falls.

He hopes this research could one day help develop more agile robots.

Nathan Hunt said, “Squirrels have a combination of characteristics that make them very interesting: on the one hand, their acrobatic nature, their biological mechanics, and their powerful muscles, which they use to leap many times their body size.” can do for.” , the lead author of the study explained to AFP.

“On the other hand, their cognitive abilities. They have very good memory, they are very creative and very good at finding solutions to problems,” he said.

The research team used peanuts to attract them. The perches were set up to imitate tree branches, forcing the animals to jump different distances to obtain their reward.

The scientists wanted to see how squirrels make their decisions when faced with a difficult trade-off: approaching the edge of perches shortens the jump distance, but compromises their stability, while being used The propellant force that could be exerted is reduced, as the platform was then built. Unstable.

As a result, squirrels preferred to fly higher than the base of the perch, especially when the “branches” were the least rigid. The flexibility of the perches proved to be six times more important than the distance covered in their decision making.

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No squirrels fell during the experiment, thanks to a variety of strategies—and their sharp claws.

Most surprising innovation: for the toughest jumps, instead of aiming directly at the target, the squirrel used the side wall as a step to “bounce”, thus seemingly using a technique of parkour. This discipline is popularized in France by the Yamakasi. in the 1990s.

According to Nathan Hunt, when squirrels are chased by raptors, their flight can be played from a few inches away, which is probably the reason for their great agility.

“It’s fun to publish this study, because people often see squirrels in their gardens,” he says. And he himself can’t help but get them by looking at other ideas of experience, he admits.

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