May 26, 2015

Super Squirrels – Protecting a neighborhood near you

Kathleen Vincenz

Faster than a speeding car,
sneakier than a bird feeder hung high,
able to leap tall branches in a single bound.
Look!
Up in the tree!
It’s a bird!
It’s a plane!
It’s Super Squirrel!

Yes, Super Squirrel, a strange animal that came to your neighborhood with powers and abilities beyond those of normal rodents. It can plant acorns to grow trees and disguise itself as a beggar at your door. But did you know that it can do so much more?

Keeps your yard free from snakes

The California ground squirrel isn’t afraid of snakes. In fact, the adult California ground squirrel is immune to rattlesnake venom. To protect its babies, that aren’t immune, the California ground squirrel uses the heat from its tail.

The squirrel tosses pebbles at the snake and waves its bushy tail in the air, raising the temperature of its tail by sending more blood to it. Rattlesnakes can detect heat to help them find prey, especially in the dark.

When viewing the squirrels using an infrared camera, a scientist said that the squirrels’ tails, “glowed like barbecue coals,” which researchers believe scare the snakes. When the scientist filmed squirrels fighting off gopher snakes, which can’t sense infrared heat, the squirrels’ tails stayed cool.

Preserves the past

In Siberia, researchers found fruit that squirrels had stashed away around 31,800 years ago. The scientists scraped tissue from the fruit, then grew it into plants. The plants produced healthy seeds that sprouted.

“This is like regenerating a dinosaur from tissues of an ancient egg,” said biologist Jane Shen-Miller.

Squirrels have their own Jurassic Park!

Foretells the future

When red squirrels see signs that spruce trees will have a bountiful crop of seeds, they have two litters that year, one in the spring and one in the summer, instead of one.

Red squirrels can tell that a spruce tree will have a good crop by tasting or looking at the spruce trees’ budding cones to see if they are full of seeds. They then know that their babies can feast on the extra food.

Warns you of impending danger

Hunters and hikers listen to the chatter of squirrels to know what is happening in the woods.

A sudden, harsh burst of chatter that ends quickly means that something—a coyote, bear, or deer—startled the squirrel. A continuing outburst of angry chatter means a hunter, deer, or elk is threatening a squirrel’s stash of winter pine cones (the elk or deer could be pawing through the food).

Screaming chatter that moves from squirrel to squirrel, tree to tree, across a long distance, is a sign of an owl or hawk overhead. Ground squirrels whistle to each other to let other squirrels know they’ve spotted a predator, then tell of its approach with chirps. As the predator closes in, squirrels add another sound called a chuck. Chucks are quick exclamation points to indicate the level of danger.

So the next time your neighborhood squirrel comes begging at your door, you’ll know just how super they are.

Sources