/ Modified nov 29, 2016 3:47 p.m.

Fitbits for Animals? Trackers Reveal ‘Secret Life’ of Squirrels

NAU researchers outfitted the rodents with 'accelerometers' to track their activities.

Arctic ground squirrel 2 spot
Courtesy of Denali National Park and Preserve

By Melissa Sevigny, Arizona Science Desk

Researchers from Northern Arizona University put tiny fitness trackers on Arctic ground squirrels to track day-to-day movements. The results reveal how freezing weather and hungry babies shape their lives.

Biologist Cory Williams led the study. He put “accelerometers” on ground squirrels in Alaska. It’s the same technology found in a Fitbit or smartphone.

“This is really the first time we’ve been able to put something like an activity logger on an animal as small as a ground squirrel,” Williams says.

Previous research suggests squirrel behavior is driven by the fear of being eaten. But this study showed weather mattered more. Squirrels emerged above ground on sunny days to escape their freezing burrows.

While on the surface, female squirrels packed in a lot more activity than males. Williams says that’s because they have to store extra food so they can care for their young. Male squirrels had more leisure time to watch for predators or bask in the sun.

Arizona Science Desk
This story is from the Arizona Science Desk, a collaborative of the state's public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Arizona Science Desk.
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