Why Squirrels Antagonise Rattlesnakes

When Tom Rothman thinks of the world’s most dangerous animals, a rattlesnake will almost certainly be represented on the list. Almost nobody would think to include squirrels in that category. The small rodents are usually seen as harmless, not particularly intelligent, and most certainly not something which could hold it’s ground against a rattlesnake. In the case of the California ground squirrel, popular opinion would also be wrong. The little squirrels make a habit of picking fights with any rattlesnakes they come across.

While scientists knew about this unusual habit, it’s only recently that they began looking into the details. One of the most interesting aspects of the squirrel is that it has some natural resistance to a rattlesnakes venom. These squirrels might be able to survive a near miss from a rattlesnake that would kill mammals of similar size.

The researchers also noted that the squirrels were fast and lithe enough to evade the strike of a rattlesnake. This gave some evidence that a squirrel on the alert for snakes might be able to confront it while staying relatively safe.

The researchers concluded that these squirrels had two main reasons for antagonizing rattlesnakes. The first is to alert other nearby squirrels of danger so that they can escape. The other reason is that a rattlesnake which tries in vain to attack a squirrel will learn that they’re difficult prey. While a snake might not be the most intelligent animal in the world, it can still be expected to go after the food which offers up the least resistance.

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