Squirrels found to have humanlike personality traits


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Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

Have you ever walked through a park or a playground and had a squirrel follow you around? As you walk down the path, the squirrel gets closer, chittering along the way.

At some point, you turn around to see the rodent practically at your heel, looking up at you. As the two of you make eye contact, you realize the squirrel has not actually been following you at all — it has been following the food you are carrying in your bag, hands or pockets.

Anyone who has had a close encounter with a squirrel like the one described above can attest that squirrels typically have certain characteristics: curiosity, sociability and an attraction to food.

A study from the journal “Animal Behaviour” found that squirrels have personalities and traits, just like humans.

“To see them chitter and skitter, stop and then scurry, the fact that ground squirrels have personalities may not seem surprising,” an introduction to the study on the University of California, Davis website reads. “But the scientific field of animal personality is relatively young, as is the recognition that there are ecological consequences of animal personality.”

The October 2021 study, “Bridging animal personality with space use and resource use in a free-ranging population of an asocial ground squirrel,” looked at golden-mantled ground squirrels, which live in the western United States and Canada, over the course of a three-year period.

These squirrels were found to all share the personality traits of being bold, aggressive, athletic and sociable, but were also found to have individual personalities.

Researchers presented the squirrels with tests, such as seeing how they reacted to their reflections in mirrors and timing how long it took the squirrels to run away when a person came near them.

The study found more outgoing and active squirrels were more successful in getting food and were able to go further in their search than shyer and less active squirrels. More aggressive squirrels were better at getting good perches to spot predators from a distance.

Thus, not only do squirrels have humanlike personalities, but those personalities can actually help determine their survival rate.

“Accounting for personality in wildlife management may be especially important when predicting wildlife responses to new conditions, such as changes or destruction of habitat due to human activity,” lead author of the study, Jaclyn Aliperti, said.

So the next time you get up close and personal with a squirrel, remember it is just using its individual personality trait of being outgoing and assertive to get a meal out of you.