Saturday, February 13, 2010
In the Midwest, everyone has seen a squirrel playing on and around trees. And we have what I've always called ground squirrels, a creature halfway between a gray squirrel and a chipmunk. But here in the foothills of Southern California, I've come across the California version of the ground squirrel and he's a different creature.
Looking much like your standard gray tree squirrel, the ground squirrel has fur that's a bit more dappled, along with a random grayish-white stripe along the side of the head in a few of them. The tail is much skinnier than that of a tree squirrel, but the main difference is that the ground squirrel lives in burrows and will only rarely go up a tree. They live, breed, hibernate and travel in a series of burrows and tunnels, which I discovered yesterday while standing quietly on a hillside with Patches when one decided to pop out of his hole. Or he started to, until he saw us. That led to a G**gle search which is how I found that these little creatures are preyed upon by everything from eagles to weasels, but especially by rattlesnakes.
What I found especially fascinating is that the mother ground squirrel will chew up sloughed off rattlesnake skins and then lick herself and her babies to mask their own odor. The squirrels also "superheat" and agitate their tails, which makes them appear larger to the snakes and less likely to be a target for dinner. Mother Nature at her finest.
And so I spent an enjoyable afternoon in the sunshine, reading a Stephen King novel and watching ground squirrels frolic; amused, entertained and as always amazed by the world around me.