Ground Squirrels Heat Tails to Combat Rattlers

Squirrels in California have developed a clever method of intimidating rattlesnakes. According to a recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, when confronting rattlesnakes, California ground squirrels heat their tails and shake them vigorously.

The process works like this: the snakes rely on sneak attacks to catch their prey and use infrared sensors to feel out their environment. Adult ground squirrels, however, are immune to rattlesnake venom, due to a protein in their blood, so they often attack rattlers by biting and kicking gravel at them. When the rattlers sense the heated tails, they know the gig is up; they've been spotted and it's time to move on, lest they want sharp little squirrel teeth in their scales or rocks and dirt in their eyes.

i-83a3a909a4919c3a745680ed04ad0ca1-Thermal Squirrel.jpg
A squirrel glows with a powered-up tail. Predators only hunt squirrels who are armed...

And apparently it works. Aaron Rundus, lead author of the study, says that the heated tail wagging immediately puts the snakes on the defensive. Furthermore, the study found that the squirrels do not bother to heat their tails when faced with other, non-poisonous predators such as gopher snakes. It's still up in the air exactly how the squirrels manage to get their tails all hot and threatening, but researchers are speculating that they might shunt blood from their core to their tail. Working on a hunch, we attached a tiny microphone to a squirrel and listeneded to him heating his tail. We have to say...We were unsurprised by what we heard.

i-a002767c7bf3d3dd05f9400ecf796706-Ground Squirrel.jpg
I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse...

Tags

More like this

It seems like an uneven match. In one corner, the unassuming California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beechyi), 30cm in length. In the other, the northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganos), more than twice the length of the squirrel, and armed with hinged fangs that pack a lethal venom. But…
tags: researchblogging.org, evolution, squirrels, rattlesnakes, tail-flagging, behavior, biology A mother squirrel rapidly waves her tail to warn off a rattlesnake in a confrontation staged by researchers in May 1987. Adult squirrels are immune to rattlesnake venom, but their offspring are…
Take a whiff of mustard or wasabi and you'll be hit with a familiar burning sensation. That's the result of chemicals in these pungent foods hitting a protein called TRPA1, a molecular alarm that warns us about irritating substances. The same protein does a similar job in other animals, but…
If you are unfamiliar with South Korea's Everland Zoo and their ridiculously talented photographer who goes by FloridaPFE on Flickr, time to make a new friend.