Beyond the headlines
GREY SQUIRRELS ARE BETTER PROBLEM-SOLVERS THAN REDS, WHICH MAY HELP EXPLAIN WHY THE NATIVES HAVE GONE EXTINCT IN MANY PARTS OF THE UK, SAYS PIZZA CHOW.
Grey squirrels are better problem-solvers than reds
Are grey squirrels cleverer than reds? We can’t say that. We’ve found that greys are better at solving problems than reds – as measured by their performance in food od extraction tasks – but problemsolving ability is only one aspect of cognition. We don’t know if greys outperform reds in other areas.
What sorts of tasks?
We presented them with two problems – an easy one, in which they had to open a transparent lid to retrieve a nut, and a harder one, which involved pulling and pushing levers to get at the food. Reds and greys were equally successful at the easy task, but more of the greys cracked the harder one.
Why do you think this is?
We don’t know whether greys are naturally better at solving problems or whether they have had to become so in order to adapt to the challenges of their adopted range. Perhaps only the best problem-solvers among the introduced greys were able to make the most of the opportunities here.
How has it helped grey squirrels?
Problem-solving ability creates behavioural flexibility, which has been shown to be associated with invasion success in birds and reptiles. But no phenomenon in ecology can be simply explained by one single factor. Other factors like squirrelpox,
which w greys transmit to reds, also play a role in their success.
Are you doing more research?
We are currently comparing the problemsolving abilities of UK grey squirrels with those in their native USA to establish whether they are born with these abilities or whether they have arisen since they were introduced here. We should have some results very soon.
Grey squirrels can crack harder tasks.