In order to truly understand how a signal functions, researchers need to be able to conduct playback experiments that recreate elements of the display in a controlled fashion. To create a playback of a complex visual signal we, like many other animal behaviorists, have turned to the burgeoning field of biorobotics. That is, with collaborators at UC Davis, we have created a mechanical model of a squirrel that we think is a reasonable representation of the squirrel display. Details of the robosquirrel model and our efforts to date are summarized in Joshi et al 2011 (see Clark Lab webpage). This video shows some of our preliminary tests of the robosquirrel. It is potentially a very useful tool for more experimental work in this system, but we still need to iron out some wrinkles in terms of field deployment. Check back soon!
This clip shows two of our preliminary field trials with robosquirrel. In the first clip, you can see the snake hiding in the tall grass in ambush position. The robosquirrel track is put in place, and the squirrel mount is slid down the track close to the snake and made to tail flag via remote control. The snake exhibits no overt reaction. In the second clip, the snake is again hiding in ambush position at a different location. The squirrel model again is slid into position down the track, but this time with no tail flagging. The snake launches a predatory strike at the squirrel, biting it in the head region. We collected several large deposits of expelled venom from the pelage of the squirrel model after this trial. Please see the Clark lab website at San Diego State University for more information: http://www.bio.sdsu.edu/pub/clark/Site/Home.html