Friday, December 21, 2007

Squirrelly is as Squirrelly does

Last night I saw a bizzarre headline on Yahoo News (shocking, eh?):

Squirrels Use Snakeskins to Mask Scent from Predators

Immediately I pictured squirrels killing and skinning snakes and then wearing the skins on their bodies like so many rodentian Xipe Totecs, but it's not like that. Instead:

ground squirrels and rock squirrels chew up rattlesnake skin and smear it on their fur to mask their scent, a team at the University of California Davis reported.

"They're turning the tables on the snake," Donald Owings, a professor of psychology who helped lead the research, said in a statement.

This, however, led me to further questions, like (1) How does smelling like a snake deter snakes? Wouldn't it attract them?

And (2) why would a professor of psychology be studying ground squirrel behavior?

Well (1) still has me stumped, but it turns out that (2) is a no-brainer. It's because ground squirrels are publishing gold! Owings has published over 30 papers on ground squirrel behavior. You can see for yourselves here.

If there is any justice in the world, the Swedes will create a Nobel for squirrelology and Owings will be the first recipient. He is the Milton Friedman of the California ground Squirrel.


Shawn said...

...*and*, it's conversational gold. You know how many chicks he's picking up at parties with this research?, maybe Dahmer smeared the contents of his freezer on *his* skin, and that explains why a professor of psychology would be studying this.

dylanandthemusic said...

Smell like your predator is advantageous because your predator isn't going to associate it's own scent with food.