Last year I wrote about Mark Rober’s pandemic-inspired foray into backyard squirrel watching as seen in his YouTube video on creating a squirrel obstacle course. He’s now revisited this topic a year later to improve on the course, creating a 9-part challenge for the squirrels in his Walnut Heist video.
As I explained in my post, the original video explored squirrel behavior using two perspectives: ethology, the study of animals’ behavior under natural conditions, and behaviorism, measuring behavioral responses to stimuli. In his new video, he also explores a third dimension, studying interactions between the squirrels as they navigate the course.
Returning are our four experimental subjects, this time cast in heist movie-style roles based on how they approach the course: Rick (the acrobat), Marty (the hacker), Frank (logistics), and Phat Gus (the mastermind).
Phat Gus, who last time turned out to be a pregnant female, is still my spirit animal.
So the obstacle course is even more elaborate this time and even incorporates the heist theme with some Mission Impossible stations. It is of course fun to see how the squirrels tackle and eventually overcome all of the challenges, but I especially enjoyed seeing how the squirrels interacted when more than one of them was on the course at the same time. They exhibited plenty of social behaviors, such as:
- Stealing bedding from each other’s nesting boxes
- Copying a jump/strategy that they watched another squirrel attempt first
- Shadowing another squirrel in the air duct maze from the outside
- Getting in a small spat when two squirrels were in a small enclosed space together
- Mating behavior (we’ll keep it G rated here)
- Social grooming (one squirrel grooming another)
This made me realize that despite seeing squirrels nearly every day of my life, I didn’t know all that much about squirrel social behavior. So it was fun to learn more about that while enjoying such an entertaining video. But I definitely wasn’t surprised this time at how quickly the squirrels completed their mission, making this obstacle course look easy!