Biology professor Joseph Whittaker and a team of students at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota are tracking squirrels on campus to learn more about their behavior.
Two students spent two months mapping the entire Concordia campus, including every tree, before they began tracking the squirrels. This allowed them to plot the places on campus where they found squirrels.
The team captured about two dozen squirrels on the campus and fitted them with collars that emit specific radio frequencies. They track the squirrels with radio telemetry using an antenna and receiver. The receiver beeps louder when squirrels are close by, which allows the team of researchers to pinpoint their locations.
The team has identified over 400 locations for the squirrels. They also document the weather and time of day and record behaviors that they observe.
The Concordia campus is full of both red and gray squirrels. The researchers have noted major differences in behavior between the two species. Gray squirrels are more social. They huddle in groups at night and chew the collars and antennas off each other. Red squirrels are territorial. They chase away gray squirrels and only allow them to eat food in their territories after they have established that they are dominant.
Squirrels are drawn to the Concordia campus because of the abundant supply of food they find in the garbage. The squirrels are popular with students and even have their own Facebook page.
Students on campus are interested in the research project. They often ask the researchers about the squirrels’ behavior and the telemetry equipment they are using to study them.
The research is funded by grants that the students applied for and by the Concordia College biology department. The researchers plan to present the results of their study at a conference to be held in Pikesville, Kentucky at the end of March.