A team of researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada studied the behavior of red squirrels to learn about how their personalities change over time. They found that the squirrels’ behavior tends to become more average as they get older.
Young squirrels tend to have extreme personalities that become more average over time. Aggressive squirrels become more mellow, while meek ones become more hostile.
The researchers tested squirrels at two critical times: when they first emerged from their nests and when they became mature. They used a white box called a Thunderdome with a clear lid to study the squirrels.
The Thunderdome contained a mirror. The researchers looked at how the squirrels responded to their reflections. They exhibited two common reactions: either they became aggressive, or they retreated and avoided eye contact. As they matured, the squirrels moved away from extremes and exhibited more average behavior. The squirrels were released after the study.
Amanda Kelley is the lead researcher and a field coordinator with the Kluane Red Squirrel Project, a research site in the Yukon that is administered by the University of Alberta. Researchers there have been studying red squirrels for over 30 years.
The field of animal personality research is growing. Scientists only recently concluded that animals have distinct personalities, even though many people had long suspected that.
Kelley is currently analyzing the data collected to figure out its real world applications. She and her team hope to learn more about how squirrels’ personalities change as they get older.