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.

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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.

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I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse...


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