Squirrels That Smell Like Snakes

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