Squirrels Have Personality Traits Like People

New study shows these cute furry rodents are more social than commonly thought.

Oct 17, 2021
Squirrels Have Personality Traits Like People | New study shows these cute furry rodents are more social than commonly thought.

Most people recognize that the fur babies they share their homes with have personalities. They can be shy or bold, calm or aggressive, and have dozens of other traits. But what about animals who do not live or socialize with people? A new study shows that ground squirrels – like pets – also have human-like personality traits.

Animal researchers at the University of California, Davis discovered that  golden-mantled ground squirrels exhibit the traits of sociability, boldness, aggressiveness and activity, according to The Guardian. These furry rodents actually have more in common with people than previously believed.

While the field of studying animal personalities is not new and personality has been documented in over 100 animals, the new study published in Animal Behavior, is the first to document personality in squirrels. The scientists focused on the small golden-mantle squirrels that while not endangered, are thought of as an asocial species that don't share the same social bonds that are found in larger ground squirrels.

The research included a series of tests – that meet the standardized approaches for animal personalities – in the lab and in the wild, according to UC Davis News. These included looking at how the rodents behaved by seeing themselves in a mirror and how they reacted when approached by the researchers.

This data was collected over the course of three summers at the Rocky Mountain Biological laboratory in Gothic, Colorado where animals have been studied for over 30 years. It was set up by Dirk Van Vuren, a professor in the UC Davis department of wildlife, fish and conservation biology who is also the lead author Jaclyn Aliperti’s advisor.

Speaking about the study’s findings, Aliperti told UC Davis News, “To see them chitter and skitter, stop and then scurry, the fact that ground squirrels have personalities may not seem surprising.

“But the scientific field of animal personality is relatively young, as is the recognition that there are ecological consequences of animal personality. For instance, bolder, more aggressive squirrels may find more food or defend a larger territory, but their risky behavior may also make them vulnerable to predation or accidents.”

The more social squirrels also had the advantages in survivability. Understanding animal personality and how that influences the use of habitat is important for wildlife conservation.

“This adds to the small but growing number of studies showing that individuals’ matter,” Aliperti said. “Accounting for personality in wildlife management may be especially important when predicting wildlife responses to new conditions, such as changes or destruction of habitat due to human activity.”

With climate change affecting animal habitats, this study can become a very useful tool for scientists as well as help you better understand the fur babies who share your home.

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Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.