Squirrels and Tails

When we think of squirrels, the first picture that comes into our minds is that of little furry animals high up in the tree either burying nuts or eating them. Their adorable little face, with beady innocent eyes, is complemented by a long furry tail that the squirrel is often seen grooming. Science dictates that every feature that an animal possesses has been chosen by Mother Nature to serve a function. Likewise, in the case of the squirrel, the tail has a few functions other than being cute and furry. Lets look into them!

Protection

Squirrels are small, agile creatures that dwell high in trees. By extension, this also implies that they are the first animals that flying predators see, such as eagles and falcons. Being small, light and plentiful, predators chose to hunt squirrels over other land mammals. The tail serves as the primary source of defence when squirrels are attacked. This is done in mainly two ways. First is the raising of the tail to ward off predators, in a manner that the squirrel looks as big as it can, and the other is for bringing the tail between the predator and itself when attacked.

Balance

Being anatomically built to live the majority of its life in trees, a major function of the tail of the squirrel is to provide balance when climbing and jumping from one tree to the other. The tail is mostly used to shift weight or to lower the centre of gravity which makes it easier for the squirrel to move about and evade predators by changing directions quickly.

Communication

Squirrels are well-known to use their tails to communicate with different members of their species.  The most common message that is transmitted is done by the constant wagging of the tail. This means that the squirrel might feel that it is threatened and is informing other members of the clan of the incoming danger. Furthermore, this is also used to notify predators that their element of surprise is no longer relevant and that they can see them.

Not-so-common applications

Apart from the obvious, the squirrel may use its tail for a whole lot of other things. When swinging from tree to tree, they are often likely to fall. To minimise impact, the tail serves as a parachute to ease the fall. In certain weather conditions, such as a chilly evening, the squirrel may use its tail as an extra layer of insulation and cover itself, increasing blood flow to keep warm. Tails are also helpful when a squirrel may decide to go swimming since they work as a rudder and help direct their course in the water, especially when the water is rough.


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