Fitness-trackers for chipmunks?!

After my encounter at the cottage with Half-Tail, the chipmunk, I was curious about whether any research has been done on those little critters.

So I did a quick literature search.

One of the first results was a paper published this year, explaining how tiny accelerometers were attached to two species of chipmunks.

In other words, in an attempt to track their activity, researchers glued little fitness-trackers on the back of chipmunks!


Source: Journal of Experimental Biology. No chipmunks were harmed in this research. Although they might have been significantly confused…

These accelerometers were nowhere near as fancy as Fitbit or any of the other fitness-trackers out there. They basically detected movement, but not the type of movement. So they couldn’t tell you whether the chipmunk was running or scratching or digging or doing some other type of chipmunk-y behaviour. They only reported that the chipmunk was moving. The researchers had to observe the chipmunks themselves and categorize their behaviour, then match up their observations with the readings from the accelerometers.

Then there are a lot of fancy-looking mathematical formulas in the article that I don’t understand…

But basically the paper was introducing the idea that with technology today (and tomorrow), accelerometers can be made small enough to fit on the back of a chipmunk, or any other small animal. If you’re able to catch it first! And if you’re able to solve some logistical issues such as:

  • How long can a battery last on a chipmunk-sized accelerometer?
  • How long will the glue last before it wears off?
  • How big can the accelerometer be before it becomes too cumbersome for the chipmunk and significantly affects its behaviour?

I think this paper opens up a whole new world for animal behaviour researchers!



Hammond, T., Springthorpe, D. Walsh, R., & Berg-Kirkpatrick, T. (2016). Using accelerometers to remotely and automatically characterize behaviour in small animals. Journal of Experimental Biology, 219, 1618-1624.


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