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Abstract

In the field, we videotaped the reactions of squirrels to playbacks of 1, 3 and 5 whistle vocalizations at two sound intensities differing by 10 dB. The squirrels reacted by running to boulders or burrows and freezing. As time progressed following playbacks, freezing declined and squirrels resumed feeding, locomotion and grooming. With increasing numbers of whistles, squirrels were more likely to run and less likely to mount a boulder. With more high intensity whistles, squirrels froze quadrupedally more and bipedally less. Freezing postures did not vary as a function of the number of low-intensity whistles. Walking was suppressed least by 1 and 3 whistles at low intensity, and inhibited most by all high-intensity whistles as well as by the low-intensity 5-whistle playback. When the squirrel was on a boulder, quadrupedal freezing was more common than bipedal freezing. Off the boulder, the two freezing postures were equally likely. We propose that squirrels assessed risk from information encoded in the whistle(s) and contextual to it, and varied their reactions as a function of apparent risk.