Across much of the country, squirrels are among the most commonly spotted wildlife, even in urban areas, and yet relatively little is known about their flighty movements and what those bickering sounds mean.
That's why for the last two years, University of Miami scientist Thaddeus McRae has devoted much of his research life to finding out a little bit more about the fluffy-tailed rodent.
More specifically, McRae was researching squirrel response to perceived threats. To conduct his observations he chased them with a robotic cat and a glider that looked like a hawk.
"We had people come up and ask, 'What are you staring at through the telescope? An endangered animal?' When we told them we were watching squirrels, they'd slowly back away," McRae told the Miami New Times about his research earlier this year.
But now, some of the observations for his Ph.D. dissertation are out. He categorized squirrel noises when they are threatened in three ways: the "kuk" (a short bark), the "quaa" (a longer squeal) and the "moan" (a whistling sound). As for their movements, there's the "twitch," which is controlled and in an arc shape and the "flag," which can look like an arc, figure eight, circle or squiggle.
McRae believes squirrels have come up with these sounds and motions to tell predators that they've been spotted and to alert any nearby squirrel friends. McRae is conducting further research to see how other squirrels behave when such signals are displayed by others of their kind.
While McRae acknowledged that his research has gained attention around campus because there's "something a little bit humorous" about it, he said in a statement there's a cooler aspect to it.
"To me, this squirrel study isn't cool because I used remote control cats, although enjoying whatever tools you use is nice, it's cool because we learned something about squirrels that we didn't know before," McRae said in a statement.
Front page image via Shutterstock.