We evaluated the relationship between play behavior and motor development in juvenile Belding's ground squirrels (Spermophilus beldingi). We observed the social play behavior of juvenile S. beldingi during their primary play period and conducted motor skills tests at the beginning and end of the play period. We also placed different-sized boxes in juveniles' natal areas during the play period and observed box climbing behavior to assess the difficulty of non-social play tasks undertaken by juveniles. Rates of social play were greater in heavy compared to light individuals, supporting the idea that juveniles must selectively allocate available energy among competing demands such as growth and play behavior. Juveniles played almost exclusively with littermates; however, they did not play at equal rates with all partners. Rather, they tended to have one preferred partner and to devote significantly less time to playing with each additional partner, indicating that stability and familiarity are important in social play interactions. Motor skill levels at the end of the play period were greater among juveniles who played with many compared to few partners, suggesting that exposure to a variety of play interactions helps facilitate motor development. Improvement in motor skills was greater among juveniles who played at high compared to low rates, had several compared to few male play partners, and engaged in several compared to few play bouts with male partners, suggesting that elements of play with male partners prominently influence motor development. The partner with whom males played at the highest rate tended to be male, and rates of social play were highest in male biased litters, raising the possibility that improvement in motor proficiency arising from play with males may be especially important for young males. The size of experimental boxes that juveniles climbed increased during the play period, supporting the idea that individuals choose play tasks that pose the greatest challenge. © Sringer-Verlag 2004.
- Motor skills
- Social behavior