Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Does the rate at which a gray squirrel flicks its tail correlate with aggression?

                While observing squirrels, it was noticed that they will flick their tails when in the presence of another squirrel.  This flicking of the tail was either followed by one of the squirrels leaving or both the squirrels chasing each other.  It appeared that the squirrels would flick their tails at different rates and sometimes the rate of flicking would increase as the flicking action continued.  The tail flicking seems to be a form of communication between the squirrels.  I hypothesize that the faster the rate of flicking, the greater the next action is followed by the tail-flicking squirrel to attack or the non tail-flicker to retreat.  These behaviors would indicate that tail flicking is a way to communicate aggression.
Materials and Methods
                To test this hypothesis, two squirrels are placed in the same enclosed area, perhaps 15x15 meters.  In this enclosure one food source, like a bird feeder is placed.  Both squirrels would then be monitored by for tail flicking.  Once tail flicking in one squirrel started, the rate of flicking would be measured by how many times the tail is flicked to the right in 30 seconds.  Then the behavior of both the squirrels would be recorded after the tail flicking stops.  This experiment would continue with two different squirrels and then two others until a strong sample size was collected.  During analysis, the rate of tail flicking would be compared to the number of times that the tail flicking was followed by either an attack/retreat and compared to the tail flicking being followed by any other action.  The rates of tail flicking would be categorized as either slow, moderate, or fast.  A bar graph could be used to show the number of times in which a slow rate was followed by an attack/retreat or other action, the number of times a moderate rate was followed by one of those actions and the same for a fast rate.  A t-test could be used to determine if the findings are significant.
Prado, Mickey. "A Statistical Analysis and Decoding of the Tail Communication System
of Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis)." Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://www.amstat.org/education/posterprojects/projects/2008/7-Grades10-12-ThirdPlace.pdf>.

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