24 December 2007

Fooling rattlesnakes

To mask their odor from rattlesnakes, California ground squirrels and rock squirrels chew on sloughed-off snake skin and smear it on their fur, according to a new study. The act most likely persuades the predators that another snake, not a squirrel, is in the area.

"To our knowledge this is the first case where [this idea] has been tested systematically and shown to have an anti-predator function—protecting the squirrel from rattlesnake predation," said study lead author Barbara Clucas.

Clucas, a graduate student in animal behavior at the University of California, Davis, said she first noted this behavior in 2002. She saw rock squirrels at Caballo Lake State Park in New Mexico licking themselves to apply chewed snake skin to their flanks, tails, and rear ends, which gave them the pungent, musky scent of a rattlesnake. In 2003 she saw California ground squirrels at Lake Solano County Park in California doing the same thing.

Her team's study of the squirrels appeared in the November issue of the journal Animal Behaviour.

Found at Neatorama. Original source here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/pf/40445561.html

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