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  • This project involves studying the way that rattlesnakes and squirrels communicate with

  • each other. The motivation for this project was studying how rattlesnakes and squirrels

  • interact, especially when squirrels are trying to protect their newborns in the springtime.

  • The rattlesnakes detect heat very precisely with a specific organ called a pit organ.

  • So, they use this organ to hunt other animals to basically see in the dark. What the squirrels

  • have learned to do is theyve learned to heat their tail to ward off these rattlesnakes,

  • knowing that the rattlesnakes have the ability to see their heat signature. This actually

  • turned out to be the first known communication between animals using heat signals. Another

  • interesting part of this project was when the squirrels interacted snakes that could

  • not sense their heat, they didn’t bother to heat up their tail. In the past to do this

  • kind of research, biologists would have to go into the field and be very fortunate to

  • see rattlesnake and squirrel interactions and almost be lucky enough and patient enough

  • to see these natural encounters. With the robotic squirrel, we can have rattlesnake-squirrel

  • encounters happen on our schedule and we can do very controlled experiments in which we

  • make the squirrel do certain movements and certain heating styles in order to study what

  • really makes a difference in affecting rattlesnake-squirrel interaction. So, the robosquirrel is comprised

  • of our controller box with the board and our mirco-controller. This is where all the processing

  • and control is done. We have the remote control that sends temperature and tail wagging information.

  • At the end of about a 10-foot pole, we have the squirrel itself and there’s a taxidermied

  • squirrel that is full of this heating coil that controls the body temperature, then we

  • have a servo motor and the tail, which also was wrapped in the heating coil and so the

  • tail and the body have independentlywe can control their temperatures and we can

  • move the tail back-and-forth like that for the wagging. By bringing engineers and biologists

  • together, were creating new ways of doing science and hopefully making discoveries that

  • would not have been made unless we brought these different fields together. In our laboratory,

  • we look at controls problems and robotics problems and their applications and many different

  • kinds of robotic animals are currently being developed all around the country and around

  • the world in order to study animal behavior. And this could be really the start of a whole

  • way of doing animal behavior research.

This project involves studying the way that rattlesnakes and squirrels communicate with

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