Sunday, 25 September 2016

Ground squirrels use the sun to hide food




September 12, 2016

Ground squirrels use information on the position of the sun when hiding their food and reuse this information to find their food stash again. The position of the sun serves as a reference point for the animals, which live in southern Africa, to orient themselves and adjust the direction they are traveling in. A study published by researchers from the University of Zurich sheds new light on the old question as to how animals find their bearings within their environment.

Jamie Samson and Marta Manser from the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental 1Studies at UZH studied colonies of Cape ground squirrels (Xerus inauris) in the wild at the Kalahari Research Center in South Africa. The diurnal rodents temporarily store their food reserves in several hiding places. As their habitat is very arid and sparsely vegetated, points of reference in the environment, such as trees or bushes, are few and far between. The UZH researchers have now discovered how the social rodents orient themselves to find their way back to their temporary food stashes. "The squirrels probably use the position of the sun as the most important cue to roughly adjust their direction of movement," explains Samson.

Position of the sun as a rough guide
The behavioral biologists gave the ground squirrels food to hide. The direction in which the rodents bolted with their spoils was recorded with the aid of GPS points. The striking thing was that the animals moved in an almost straight line either towards or away from the sun to find a suitable hiding place. Every time, the horizontal angle of their direction of movement deviated slightly from the direction of the sun. "Based on this movement pattern," interprets Samson, "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."

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