RoboSquirrel: Robotic animal costs taxpayers $325,000; video shows squirrel teasing snake

CLEVELAND - Cleveland's air show in September has been scrapped, and the annual Easter egg hunt at the Garfield Mansion was canceled -- all because of sequestration.

And it's because of things like a robotic squirrel that's pulling away federal taxes dollars to fund what some say are worthless science experiments.

San Diego State University and the University of California, Davis are being criticized for spending $325,000 on a robotic squirrel. It's a project funded by the National Science Foundation and built on taxpayer dollars.

Taxpayer watchdog Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has blasted the "RoboSquirrel" project saying, "the problem in Washington is politicians are very specific about what we should fund, but not specific about what we should cut. As a result, we are chasing robotic squirrels and countless other low-priority projects over a fiscal cliff."

SDSU spokesman Greg Block said the project is a powerful tool to examine biology. He said parts to make the squirrel were only a few hundred dollars. The rest of the funds went to supporting the students.

"We have been able to support the training and education of four graduate students and 30 undergraduates with this award," Block said.

The experiment uses the robotic squirrel in an attempt to learn more about how real ones interact with their fiercest competitor, the rattlesnake. SDSU biology professors Rulon Clark and Matthew Barbour, along with researchers at UC Davis, made the recent discovery.

In an SDSU news release, Clark said, "We're shedding light on all of nuances of what's going on between this specific predator and prey interaction."

The researchers said when confronted by rattlesnakes, California ground squirrels employ a key defensive tactic to stave off the snake -- they wag their tails.

Coburn cited "RoboSquirrel" in his government pork list of some of the most "egregious" ways taxpayer dollars are being spent. He claimed this year's total is $18 billion.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg on how our federal tax dollars are being used. 5 On Your Side Chief investigator Ron Regan follows your money through federal agencies and the hallways of Congress.

You won't believe what else Ron uncovered. His exclusive investigation, Wasting Away, can be seen on NewsChannel5 at 11 p.m.

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