Squirrel chewing on shed snakeskin then applying it to its tail fur. Filmed by Barbara Clucas, UC Davis.
California ground squirrels and rock squirrels have evolved a sneaky strategy to avoid being eaten by their worst enemy: They create a rattlesnake "perfume" that masks their squirrelly scent.
Barbara Clucas, a graduate student in animal behavior at UC Davis, watched how the squirrels do it (check out her video, above). First they chew up skins shed by rattlesnakes. Then they lick themselves to spread skin pieces and snake-flavored spit on their fur. Some squirrels even gather snake odor from dirt where snakes have rested. When the squirrels curl up for their own naps, they sleep more safely.
Clucas and colleagues at UC Davis, Sam Houston State University and New Mexico State University published their findings in the journal Animal Behavior.—Dawn Stover
Video by Barbara Clucas, UC Davis
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.