A ‘Deep Look’ at frustrated squirrels and randy spiders

KQED’s “Deep Look” series recently focused on two research projects at UC Berkeley: one a study about the role frustration plays in outside-the-box thinking in squirrels, the other observations of male jumping spiders wooing females with hand signals and thrumming.

Mikel Delgado frustrates squirrels to learn about the psychology of one of UC Berkeley’s resident squirrels. (Video courtesy of KQED “Deep Look”)

The videos, now on KQED Science’s “Deep Look” website, profile the work of graduate student Mikel Delgado in the lab of Lucia Jacob, a professor of psychology, and graduate student Erin Brandt in the lab of Damian Elias, an associate professor of environmental science, policy and management.

As described in a recent Berkeley News story, Delgado looked at the fox squirrel’s tail flicking as a clue to its frustration level when searching for a walnut in a box, and when trying to open a locked box.

“Her observations led her to believe that perhaps frustration isn’t just a way of blowing off steam,” according to a KQED Science story by reporter Gabriela Quirós, “but instead a way to gather up the energy to ‘brute-force’ a new solution, kind of like kicking the vending machine when it eats your dollar. She thinks frustration might have an evolutionary purpose.”

The second story focused on Brandt’s studies of the mating rituals of colorful male jumping spiders, which sing and execute elaborate courtship dances.

Erin Brandt records the rhythmic drumming of male jumping spiders trying to attract a mate – any mate. (Video courtesy of KQED “Deep Look”)

“I’m kind of known as the spider lady in my family now,” Brandt told KQED Science reporter Elliott Kennerson for a story accompanying the video. “I’m interested in how behaviors evolve, and jumping spiders are a great way to look at that. And they’re just so cute.”