Squirrels use discarded snake skins to mask scent from predators

December 20th, 2007 - 3:07 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 20 (ANI): A new study conducted by researchers at UC Davis has found that snake-scent is one of tools squirrels use to throw predators off their scent.

Barbara Clucas, a graduate student in animal behaviour at UC Davis, found that California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) and rock squirrels (Spermophilus variegates) chew up rattlesnake skin and coat it on their fur to mask their scent from predators.

Squirrels apply snake scent to themselves by picking up pieces of shed snakeskin, chewing it and then licking their fur.

Clucas said that adult female squirrels and juveniles apply snake scent more often than adult males, which are less vulnerable to predation by snakes.

The scent probably helps to mask the squirrel’s own scent, especially when the animals are asleep in their burrows at night, or to persuade a snake that another snake is in the burrow.

Donald Owings, a professor of psychology at UC Davis and an author of the study said that the squirrels are not limited to the use of shed snake skins. They also pick up snake odour from soil and other surfaces on which snakes have been resting, and use that to apply scent.

Owings said that snake-scent application is one of a remarkable package of defenses that squirrels use against rattlesnakes.

The study was published in the journal Animal Behaviour. (ANI)

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