Aug
14
2007

Squirrel vs. rattlesnake: squirrel wins

In this corner: The champion of heated-tail encounters -- the squirrel. (Photo by Darragh Sherwin at flickr.com)
In this corner: The champion of heated-tail encounters -- the squirrel. (Photo by Darragh Sherwin at flickr.com)
Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever posted anything on this site about rattlesnakes. So what happens but today I came across some more interesting information about rattlers and their encounters with squirrels. And believe it or not, it appears squirrels get the upper hand, or tail, in their confrontations with the snakes.

Californian squirrels have learned how to heat up their tails and shaking them In this corner: The venomous creature that's afraid of a lowly mammal's warmed tail. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
In this corner: The venomous creature that's afraid of a lowly mammal's warmed tail. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
aggressively. This action freaks out the rattlers and puts them on the defensive. In a study published this week on Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, the report says that the rattlesnakes can sense infrared radiation coming from the squirrels’ tails, a signal that snakes interpret meaning that the squirrels could come and harass them.

Interestingly, adult squirrels are not prey for rattlesnakes. They have a protein in their blood that makes them immune to snake venom. But the snakes do like to go for the baby squirrels. But it appears that the adult squirrels have come up with this “hot-tail” defense to protect their young.

Researchers are still trying to figure out how the squirrels are able to heat their tails. But they’ve discounted it as a natural reaction, because the squirrels only do it when in the presence of rattlesnakes. One theory is that they might be able to shunt the flow of some of their body core blood to go to their tail.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Joe's picture
Joe says:

I'll let it be known that I am somewhat an anti-squirrel person. I don't want them dead or anything, but they are sort of a nuisance. They dig up our yard, make off with our raspberries and tomatoes and steal bird food. To me, they are rats with bushy tails. And they are everywhere! My neighborhood even has a few albino squirrels - which gives me a stronger rats-with-busy-tales vibe. But to learn that they can, at will, heat up their tails to use as a defense against rattlesnakes makes me more convinced that they are gearing up for a massive take over. Did you know squirrels,are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States? They have that going for them at least.

posted on Fri, 08/17/2007 - 1:17pm
coglanglab's picture
coglanglab says:

This is a fantastic story. I love science! Thank you for this post.

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Please take a moment for science: http://coglanglab.org

posted on Sun, 08/19/2007 - 6:45pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I'd like you to know Im a somewhat anti-person squirrel. I don't want them dead or anything, but they are sort of a nuisance. They dig up our yard, make off with our raspberries and tomatoes and poison us. To me, they are apes with bushy tails. And they are everywhere! My neighborhood even has a few redneck humans - which gives me a stronger apes-without-bushy-tales vibe. But to learn that they can, at will, destroy us because they are 'bothered' by us makes me more convinced that they are gearing up for a massive take over. Did you know humans are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among squirrels in the United States? They have that going for them at least.

posted on Sat, 08/25/2007 - 10:22am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Apes do not have tails. Monkeys have tails. So do cats.

posted on Sat, 08/25/2007 - 10:28am
Joe's picture
Joe says:

Zing! But seriously, I don't want them to be "destroyed" just like I don't really think they are planning a global take over. My sister had them living in her house. She had them trapped and then relocated, which worked for her.

posted on Sat, 08/25/2007 - 6:28pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I find the comment about rednecks to be uncalled for and degrading. Try to keep your racial slurs to yourself. replace that comment about rednecks with blacks or another racial group and many people here would be extreemly offended...

posted on Tue, 08/28/2007 - 2:54pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

This is so so cool! i love learning about these animals!

posted on Wed, 11/21/2007 - 11:38am

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