Thursday, July 8, 2010

Squirrels got game

Oh, to be squirrelly. Which is to be clever and quick and a survivor, among other things.

Squirrels are “one of the most widely disseminated mammals in the world,” according to a NYTimes story earlier this week; they are found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia. How have they done so well that they’re sometimes considered pests?

Squirrels have a lot going for themselves, Natalie Angier (she’s back!) writes. The Eastern gray tree squirrel, featured in her July 5 story (“Nut? What Nut? The Squirrel Outwits to Survive”) has “a phenomenal elasticity of body, brain and behavior.”

Among other things, Eastern grays can leap great distances (10 times their body length), and, able to rotate their ankles 180 degrees, they can keep a grip while climbing, regardless of where they face. Their vision is acute; they learn from other animals, even humans; they’re social and chatty and willing to deceive when it serves their purposes (for instance, in hiding acorns from other squirrels).

Pretty amazing little animals in short, and they “greet each other with a mutual nuzzling of cheek and lip glands that looks decidedly like a kiss,” at day’s end. That tail movement of theirs? It’s often adjusting temperature – either propelling warm blood toward the squirrel’s core in winter or wicking excess heat off into the air in summer.

And there’s much more about squirrels, waiting to be read with amazement. Go to

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