Researchers explore the "survival instincts" of squirrels.


    Speaking for baby boomers — which I am entitled to do as the Official Generational Spokesperson — I think we can all admit we’re a little disappointed the 21st century didn’t turn out to be like “The Jetsons.”

    I don’t need a jet pack, but it sure would be nice to have the Jetsons’ robotic maid.

    Instead, we get robotic squirrels. No thanks, I can hide my own nuts for the winter.

    According to a CNN.com article, the professors at Hempshire College in Massachusetts have created a robotic squirrel, which is set up near real squirrels and made to move and emit squirrel noises by way of what I’m sure is a very natural-looking cord attached to the researchers’ laptop computer.

    The scientists are hoping the robotic squirrel will help them, as the article says, “decode squirrels’ communications techniques, social cues and survival instincts.”

    Researchers, let me save you some time here: the survival instinct of squirrels is not good.

    Either that or they are seriously depressed. Yes, I know they look happy, but I’m afraid it’s another tragic example of the “tears of the rodent clown.”

    In my neighborhood, they sit by the side of the road, patiently waiting for a car so they can launch a desperate kamikaze attack. I’ve bagged more than a few myself.

    So hopefully the robotic versions will be able to shed more light on the inner life of real squirrels.

    Here’s one tantalizing tidbit. A squirrel, thinking it was talking to a new-found friend, opened up to the robotic squirrel about its feelings:

    “They always talk about the ‘rat race’ like they’re the only ones that get anxious and depressed about their career paths. But the job outlook for all rodents is pretty much the same. And that’s basically what we are — rats with furry tails. Some days I get so tired I — wait, how come you’ve got that long cord coming out your butt that’s hooked up to that laptop over there ...”

    (At this point, it’s believed the squirrel figured out his “friend” was actually a robot and scampered away, hopefully not toward a major highway.)

    If nothing else, perhaps we can use robotic squirrels to educate real squirrels about pedestrian safety.

    These lessons, of course, must be adapted for squirrels, which are generally not considered for the Advanced Placement classes of the animal world. For humans — well, most humans anyway — it’s enough to say, “Look both ways before crossing the street.”

    Not so with squirrels. Squirrels usually do look both ways, but they don’t take the next step in logic: “Oh, I see a car coming. I better not cross.”

    Instead your average squirrel says, “Here comes a car. I better cross now! But maybe not the whole way. I’ll just stop here in the middle! Or maybe I should go back! Or maybe not! If only I could remember what Mom told me just before she was run over!”

    Splat!

    And when that happens, there’s no robotic maid to clean up the mess.

    Write to Don Flood in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send emails to dflood287@comcast.net.
    (c) 2008 King Features Synd., Inc.