In The Field

ABS: The squirrels that smell like snakes

It might not put Chanel out of business, but for ground squirrels it’s the must-have fragrance of the season. Researchers have discovered that several species of ground squirrel coat themselves in rattlesnake scent to confuse their slithering enemies. The wily squirrels splash on the ‘eau de rattlesnake’ by chewing on the shed skins of snakes and then licking their own fur, giving themselves a coating of snake scent that disguises them from the predators, reports Barbara Clucas of the University of California, Davis.

Ground squirrels are a favourite of animal behaviour researchers because their small size, tameness, complex social communication and wily predator-avoidance tactics makes them good to study. And there’s no shortage of them at the Animal Behaviour Society meeting here in the Utah mountains. The surrounding countryside – and the outdoor terraces of the restaurants – are swarming with them.

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