by Alex Fox/Smithsonianmag.com
Nearly the entire life of a squirrel is spent in a death-defying, arboreal high-wire act where a miscalculated leap could spell disaster. To navigate their precarious daily rounds, squirrels make fast, sophisticated mental calculations to stick landings on wobbly branches and even deploy maneuvers frequently seen in the acrobatic free-running sport of parkour, reports Jonathan Lambert for Science News.
Those are some of the findings of a new study, published this week in the journal Science, that took a detailed look at the biomechanics and decision-making behind the gymnastic lifestyles of fox squirrels.
“As a model organism to understand the biological limits of balance and agility, I would argue that squirrels are second to none,” says study author Nathaniel Hunt, a biomechanics researcher at the University of Nebraska, in a statement. “If we try to understand how squirrels do this, then we may discover general principles of high performance locomotion in the canopy and other complex terrains that apply to the movements of other animals and robots.”