|In defense of squirrels
||[Nov. 19th, 2008|08:41 am]
Don't get me wrong. I'm not a huge fan of squirrels. Let's face it, they're tree rats. But for a fuzzy tail and a propensity to hang out in more sanitary locations, we'd be glue-trapping and poisoning them with abandon. Instead of feeding them or eating them. |
But, I do admire the cheeky. And I have from time to time grown fond of an indivdual or two -- Blaze, the black squirrel with a white patch on her chest and a white tipped tail, who had several litters in the tree in my front yard. And right now there's a grey one, possibly one of her babies, who's got a mutantly short tail, Stubby. I'd suspect Mommacat of relieving him of tail excess, but it's got a little white tip on the end, which I guess could be scarring, but I like to think he/she's one of Blaze's progeny.
Even though the little expletive deleted and his buddy have chewed a whole in the top of my garbage can. And behavior like that will move him right into "rat in my yard" territory, which means no mercy, no quarter.
But squirrels have their uses -- as weather predictors, for a start -- from the size of the little buggers and the EXTRA-franticness I'm seeing this year -- the trash can lid, major pumpkin-noshing, it's going to be a very cold winter. Time to lay in extra weatherstripping.
This and spring are the times of year I hear most about suicidal squirrels -- and see so many of them laid out on the road, often just a little trickle of blood on their furry little not-quite-rat faces, sometimes one with the pavement. Thankfully, with Willow passing, I no longer will have to say "Gah, no! Drop it, for the love of god do not make me pull that out of...not yours! Not yours!"
It always makes me sad. Not because they're dead. (There are plenty of squirrels. If we never ran them over, they would take over our houses, chew on all of our electrical wires and infest our walls.) But because, in this case, an exquisite response to predation-pressure is not only so grossly maladapted to their current environment, but we call them stupid, besides.
See, they're not being idiots when they dash out in front of you, hesitate, run toward you, hesitate, dash in one direction, then the other.
They are being creatures superbly tuned for "not being caught". After all, what goes after squirrels? Hawks, foxes, owls, racoons, mostly. A squirrel can change direction faster than any of those. Think about being on foot -- or hovering in the air, if only our jetpack dreams came true -- and chasing something that dashes, stops, turns 180 degrees, dashes, hesitates, dashes in another direction....I'd fall on my ass immediately, of course, and you might have a better chance -- but really, put that squirrel in a football helmet and pads and he's a dream footballplayerwhosepositioncatchestheballandrunswithit, isn't he?
Sadly, cars, going way faster than most predators and immune to the urge to change direction with the squirrel, mow them right down if one of their dashes doesn't take them out of the original zone.
Poor maligned squirrels. They may be trash-can-lid eating expletives, but let's admire their ability to come up with a strategy the protects them from any natural predator.
And before we call them stupid for not adjusting to cars...21 pedestrians in Montgomery County alone so far this year have been hit by cars, 14 of them met the same fate as the squirrel Percy & I passed on the road this morning.