Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ground Squirrels vs Rattlesnakes, a Hell Bug Update, and Safe Parrots

This is a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.

This is a California Ground Squirrel.

This is what a California Ground Squirrel does when she sees a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.

The noticeable move is a bushing of her Chipmunk-like tail and a flagging move. The tail remains upright while "flagging" back and forth to left and right.

A large part of the diet of Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes and Gopher Snakes is Ground Squirrel pups so everyone always feels sorry for the poor squirrel because how could she possibly win a confrontation with a snake. Particularly a rattler?

Well, it turns out that the squirrel, not only has defensive moves such as throwing dirt at the snake, or in a pinch biting it, she also has a secret weapon. One that belongs in the nothing-stranger-than-nature category.

When a CA Ground Squirrel runs across a rattler, not only does her tail flag, but new research finds that her tail heats up far above normal. Her tail heats up? That's right. And it works. Rattlesnakes have heat sensors and being an ambush hunter they will become defensive if a tail just flags at them. They've been busted and therefore their chances of surprising prey and hunting success is drastically lowered. But if the flagging tail sends a waving infra red signal the rattler becomes super defensive and will take off.

And besides that, the Squirrel only heats up her tail when a rattler appears. If the other predator snake of Ground Squirrel young appears, the Gopher Snake, only flagging occurs.

That is remarkably specific. Good old adaptive evolution strikes again.

And hey, how do they know for sure with multiple modulations that the rattlesnake's change in behavior is being caused by the super heated tail anyway.

You can't just run up during a squirrel vs rattlesnake confrontation and clip a thermometer to the squirrel's tail to check on whether it's hot or not. Neither the snake nor the squirrel is going to continue normal behavior even if you could convince the squirrel to stand still long enough to have her tail temp taken. Which they must have done at some point in order to know that the Squirrel tail gets hot in the first place, but poof goes the rest of the confrontation every time.

The Answer: They created Squirrel robots whose tails would flag and heat up with the push of a button. Therefore the different reaction of the snake to heated and non-heated flagging tails could be monitored.

I like that a lot.

Then we get to the Bugs from Hell, who I don't like a lot. This morning the vegetation above was a perfectly lovely squash blossom, by afternoon it had turned into something that tends to make me itch when I look at it. A Bugs from Hell Nursery.

(They've now begun to land in mass on my laundry when I hang it outside. I've begun to think of how one would feel when a cloud of locusts appears.)

Remember how I was going to make a Sage spray and try that as a repellent? Well the Daddy Long Legs knew something I didn't when he was laying in wait on the Sage. I went out today and the B from H's had started on the Sage.

Karen Anne Kolling emailed and suggested making some Red Pepper spray. So that's on tomorrow's menu. That is if there is anything much left to spray it on. You can see how locust thoughts might come to the fore.

And Good News passed along by Peggy M--Brooklyn Parrots reports that the Dustbowl Parrots--( nickname of the Leif Ericson Park ball field) survived the recent tornado.

Donegal Browne

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