University of Exeter scientists found grey squirrels quickly remembered how to solve a problem they had not seen for almost two years.
The squirrels also quickly worked out how to use those skills in a redesigned version of the test…
In the study, five squirrels were given a task identical to one they had tried 22 months earlier, in which they had to press levers to get hazelnuts.
In that first experience, the squirrels improved with practice — taking an average of eight seconds on their first attempt and just two seconds by the final time they tried it.
Trying again for the first time in 22 months, they took an average of just three seconds to get a hazelnut.
Grey squirrels are known to have good long-term memory — they are “scatter-hoarders,” collecting and hiding thousands of nuts every autumn…
“This is not just remembering where things have been left, it shows they can recall techniques which they have not used for a long time.”
-Dr Théo Robert, University of Exeter
When presented with a version of the task that looked different but required the same technique to get hazelnuts, the squirrels showed a “neophobic” (fear of news things) response — hesitating for more than 20 seconds on average before starting the task.
But once they started it took them just two seconds on average to get a hazelnut, showing that they were able to recall and apply the technique they learned in the previous form of the challenge.
Journal Reference: Pizza Ka Yee Chow, Stephen E. G. Lea, Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, Théo Robert. How to stay perfect: the role of memory and behavioural traits in an experienced problem and a similar problem. Animal Cognition, 2017;