Tiny Fitness Trackers Reveal ‘Secret Life’ of Arctic Squirrels

Oct 11, 2016

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.

Arctic ground squirrel
Credit NPS / Jacob W. Frank

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.

The study appeared in Royal Society Open Science.

Credit Arizona Science Desk