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Science and Innovations

Tiny Fitness Trackers Reveal ‘Secret Life’ of Arctic Squirrels

NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Researchers from Northern Arizona University put tiny fitness trackers on Arctic ground squirrels to track day-to-day movements. The results reveal how freezing weather and hungry babies shape their lives.

Biologist Cory Williams led the study. He put “accelerometers” on ground squirrels in Alaska. It’s the same technology found in a FitBit or smartphone.

“This is really the first time we’ve been able to put something like an activity logger on an animal as small as a ground squirrel,” Williams says.  

Previous research suggests squirrel behavior is driven by the fear of being eaten. But this study showed weather mattered more. Squirrels emerged above ground on sunny days to escape their freezing burrows.

While on the surface, female squirrels packed in a lot more activity than males. Williams says that’s because they have to store extra food so they can care for their young. Male squirrels had more leisure time to watch for predators or bask in the sun.

The study appeared in Royal Society Open Science.

Credit Arizona Science Desk

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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