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Smart Animals: Ground Squirrel Use the Sun for Navigation

Sep 13, 2016 06:00 AM EDT
Ground Squirrels
A new study suggests that ground squirrels use the sun as a navigational guide to search for its food stash.
(Photo : David McNew/Getty Images)

A new study revealed that ground squirrels temporarily rely of the position of the sun to roughly serve as a navigational aide to find the storage place of their foods.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that ground squirrels either moves towards or away from the sun, with its horizontal angle of their direction deviated slightly from the direction of the sun, when searching for a suitable hiding place for its spoils.

"Based on this movement pattern," explained study co-author Jamie Samson from the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at University of Zurich, in a press release. "We presume that Cape ground squirrels use the position of the sun at a particular time of day as a rule of thumb to find their bearings when searching for a place to hide their food."

For the study, the researchers selected nine Cape ground squirrels across five social groups living in the Kuruman River Reserve in South Africa. Each of the squirrels was attached with GPS tracker. Additionally, the researchers set up cameras near each of the social circles to monitor their subjects.

The researchers then gave each subject a peanut as provisions. After receiving the peanut, the ground squirrels bolted in an almost straight line toward or away from the position of the sun to go to their caches.

Interestingly, the squirrels tend to recover their provisions from the caches almost 24 hours after they hid it, at a time when the sun is virtually at the same position in the sky as the previous day.

"The squirrels seem to have a certain flexibility regarding when they recover their food," said Samson in a statement. "This usually happens before the 24-hour point, if there are more individuals at the group during that time -- to prevent the food from being stolen by rivals."

With their findings, the researchers concluded that ground squirrels were able to temporarily use the position of the sun as a flexible navigational aide.

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