Yes, my title was designed to appeal to everyone, even those among us that have a slightly naughty mind. I know instinctively that there is not one of you, currently reading this, that jumped on WordPress today looking for a squirrel story. So I had to do something.
I did not go to college. Oh, I took a lot of college courses during my years with GE both locally and at their Management College in Croton-On_Hudson, N.Y., but I do not have a degree. I admire those that do however. Years of study preparing for….. um, whatever you were preparing for besides spring break and getting out of college. So it was that I came across an article about a Ph.D whose dissertation was on the complexity of squirrel behavior. To quote her, she said “what’s cool is that these animals are solving problems right under our feet and most people don’t realize it.” She is right. I didn’t realize it.
When I think of squirrels, I think of the little guy digging in my garden, or finding a little hole in my siding and wintering over in my attic and walls. I certainly do not attach anything more cerebral then that to them. But I would be wrong. When I see a squirrel sitting in the yard, contemplating a nut, I assume they are trying to figure out why the shell is so hard and how am I going to eat this sucker, when in fact, it appears that they are really considering many factors to answer just one question. “Do I store this, or do I eat it now?” Yup, while those beady little eyes are starring at their nuts, they are really contemplating the perishability and the nutritional value. They also take into consideration the availability of food at that time and of course, the presence or absence of competitors.
Wow. Who knew? I have contemplated on occasion how a squirrel remembers where he buried his nuts, but after digging up many in my yard, I have decided they don’t have a clue. They just bury so many, they will never run out.
But, the good doctor, after years of studying cognition, problem solving, memory, and thinking by pigeons, and zebrafish as well as squirrels determined that for all the difference between animals and humans, they also have difficult problems to solve, over and above being shot or hit by a car. She arrived at this conclusion by utilizing undergraduate helpers armed with nuts, stopwatches, camcorders and GPS trackers on squirrels around campus.
After reading this, I came to a few conclusions of my own. The first being, “is it me, or does this sound like a total waste of a perfectly good doctorate”. The second was, “am I now a better person for knowing this”. But the thing that keeps racing around in my mind is how, had I gone to college, with the assistance of my parents and their years of hard work to put me there, could I tell them that I had acquired an advanced degree in Squirrology. Oh, and is it OK if I move back home.