03/15/2012 04:20 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2012

'RoboSquirrel' Biobot Battles Snake, Puts Animal-Simulating Robots In Spotlight (VIDEO)

Robots do just about everything these days, from building cars or vacuuming the floor. Now they’re heading out into the field, helping biologists understand complicated animal behavior that’s often difficult or even dangerous to observe under strictly natural conditions.

Don’t believe it? Have a look at RoboSquirrel, a cute mechanical taxidermied squirrel that’s programmed to make “antipredator” sounds and movements. It’s so realistic other animals mistake it for the real thing—and that includes the fearsome northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus), which sometimes prey on squirrels.

Recently, a team of researchers including Dr. Rulon W. Clark--an assis­tant pro­fes­sor at Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­sity at San Diego--test a coiled snake’s reaction to RoboSquirrel. In the first sequence, the furry little biobot’s tail flicks—and that seems to rattle the rattler. In the second, the squirrel’s tail flicks—and the snake does something quite different. But don’t take our word for it—watch the video.