Rodents recently spooked by snakes wave their tails as wariness signal
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Whole scientific careers have gone into understanding why a harmless handful of fluff like a California ground squirrel taunts rattlesnakes. Now Rulon Clark and his team at San Diego State University are exploring the puzzle of why the squirrels also seem to taunt rocks, sticks and the occasional shrub.
On spotting a snake, a California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) stares and sniffs, or if the snake is uncoiled, may even kick sand at it. And in bursts, the squirrel flags its tail left and right “like a windshield wiper,” Clark says.
A rattler can strike a target 30 centimeters away in less than 70 milliseconds. But ground squirrels twist and dodge fast enough to have a decent chance of escape. Also, adult squirrels from snake country have evolved some resistance to venom. So taunting is worth the risks as a signal to neighboring squirrels and to the snake that its ambush attempt has been discovered. After getting publicly and lengthily