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Squirrel Talk: AU professor cracks the code of the Sciuridae

Auburn Family Sciuridae: Judging by this photo, which exists, of a squirrel at a 2009 game at Jordan-Hare, Auburn and squirrels have understood one another for a while now.

Robert Lishak has made Onterio McCalebb’s favorite pastime a little easier.

The Auburn University biology professor claims he has deciphered and cataloged a set of squirrel vocalizations that warn against predators and other threats. (He calls it the Rosetta Acorn. Or at least he should.)

From Monday’s Washington Post:

To study this squirrel talk, Lishak uses software that depicts the barks as jagged lines known as spectrograms and that show a sound’s duration and frequency. But scientists were studying squirrel sounds long before spectrograms became common, assembling a set of onomatopoeic words to describe unique calls: kuks and quaas, moans and muk-muks.

Lishak and his students spend hours in the field recording vocalizations and making observations. They even give squirrels something to talk about. They started out with a model of a cat that was pulled on a tether. Later, they trained domestic cats to hunt squirrels. (Don’t worry, squirrel-lovers. A monofilament line keeps the cats from actually catching one.)

Had Lishak and Co. been up on recent Auburn football lore, they wouldn’t have had to train cats. But obviously there’s no monofilament line in the world that can withstand the squirrel-catching speed of Mr. McCalebb; securing his services might have risked PETA involvement.

Terms currently included in the squirrel’s stranger danger lexicon are: Kuk, Quaa, Quaa Moan, and the sensual Muk-Muk. Listen and learn about them here.

Study up, Onterio.

Photo via Friends of The Program.

Related: The Auburn “Squirrel Club.”

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