Croissants camouflage themselves with snake fragrance

Crushed snake skin as a defense strategy

Gopher chews on snakeskin © Barbara Clucas / UC Davis
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To avoid being tracked down by their predators, the rattlesnakes, Californian ground squirrels camouflage themselves as dangerous predators: They chew the deposited skin of snakes and smear their smell by licking into the fur.

Barbara Clucas, a biologist at the University of California at Davis, observed both ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) and a related squirrel (Spermophilus variegates) for their study, now published in the journal Animal Behavior. She found that adult females and young croakers, in particular, often spawned "snake perfume" by chewing snakes on discarded skin and distributing them on their fur.

The smell apparently masks the animals' own body odor and thus protects them from snakes, especially when they sleep in their caves at night. The prey seeking snakes are obviously fooled, believe the cave is occupied by a conspecific and refrain from taking a closer look.

"However, the horns are by no means limited to the use of snakeskin, " explains Donald Owings, professor of psychology and co-author of the study. They also absorb snake odor from the floor and other surfaces and roll in it. Similar behavior is also known by other rodents.

In addition, the snake's fragrance is just one part of a remarkable array of defensive strategies that squirrels use against rattlesnakes: they know exactly how dangerous a snake is at rattling, can heat up their tail to send a warning to the snakes' sense of warmth and are quite effective even snakes. In addition, they are partly immune to the snake venom. display

(National Science Foundation, 28.12.2007 - NPO)