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What a robotic squirrel tells us about animal behavior

Narrator:       This is Science Today. Engineers and biologists are joining forces to better understand animal behavior. Sanjay Joshi, a mechanical engineer at the University of California, Davis, helped build a robotic squirrel to figure out just how a squirrel defends its pups from nearby rattlesnakes by using tail signals to ward off the snakes. Joshi explains that a rattlesnake can detect heat very precisely to hunt other animals.

Joshi:             What the squirrels have learned to do is heat their tail to ward off these rattlesnakes, knowing that the rattlesnakes have the ability to see their heat signature. This actually turned out to be the first known communication between animals using heat signals.

Narrator:       Using a "robosquirrel," researchers could distinguish between tail flagging and tail heating, which they would not be able to do with a live animal in the field.

Joshi:             By bringing engineers and biologists together, we're creating new ways of doing science and hopefully making discoveries that would not have been made unless we brought these different fields together.

Narrator:       For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.