Squirrels Defend Against Rattlesnakes

Some squirrels have developed some uncanny defense mechanisms against rattlesnakes. Researchers have found that some squirrels use the skins shed by the reptiles to cover themselves with rattlesnake scent.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Sometimes, the best defense against a snake in the grass is to smell like one. Researchers from the University of California at Davis have found that California ground squirrels and rock squirrels shoe-up some of the skins that rattlesnakes shed then lick their fur, which leaves them smelling like a rattlesnake. The squirrels can snooze safely in their underground burrows because the rattlesnakes slithering above think that they're only other rattlesnakes down below the poor fools.

Squirrels are not one tricked(ph) rodents. One of the study's authors, Professor Donald Owings of UC Davis, says that squirrels can heat up their tails, kind of like a space ray in a science fiction comic that will ward off a snake; and some squirrels can even tell how dangerous a snake is based on the sound of its rattle - must be some kind of code. One rattle, not too dangerous; five rattles, pick up your acorns and scram.

Professor Owings says that at the defense that squirrels have developed, it's a nice example of the opportunism of animals.

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