Squirrels Puzzling in an Academic Journal

Our friend Dan Egnor sent this to me, and I’m sharing it along with my favorite bit of his commentary.

Squirrel standing on a branch intently looking at a question mark.

In July 2017, the academic journal Animal Cognition published a paper titled How to stay perfect: the role of memory and behavioural traits in an experienced problem and a similar problem.

tl;dr: Squirrels have way better memory for puzzles than I do.

“We examined this question by first presenting grey squirrels with a puzzle 22 months after their last experience of it (the recall task). Squirrels were then given the same problem presented in a physically different apparatus (the generalisation task) to test whether they would apply the previously learnt tactics to solve the same problem but in a different apparatus. The mean latency to success in the first trial of the recall task was significantly different from the first exposure but not different from the last exposure of the original task, showing retention of the task.”

Pizza Ka Yee Chow, Stephen E. G. Lea, Natalie Hempel de Ibarra & Théo Robert – 2017

“22 months! I could probably replay an entire escape room after 22 months and not even notice. Though maybe if the escape room dispensed hazelnuts (like this one did) I would remember better? But of course, I can barely remember where I left my keys, much less remember the location of 1,000 randomly cached acorns a season later (which squirrels in the wild apparently do).”

Dan Egnor – 2020

Whether you want to read the full article… or just scroll all the way to the bottom to see a video of adorable squirrels solving puzzles to get their hazelnut fix, either way, check out the original post.

Dan, thanks for seeing cute critters solving puzzling and thinking of me.

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