What Do Squirrels Do With Their Tails?

Reader Contribution by Elizabeth Gatto
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Squirrels are extremely cute, agile, friendly and fearless, making them one of the most interesting rodents. They have small heads with big beady eyes, small flexible ears, soft bodies with tiny paws and, their most defining characteristic – extremely bushy tails. Some species of squirrels have bushier tails than others, but all of them have in common that their tails are almost as long as their bodies, very bushy and very useful, they’re not there just to make them look cute.

So, what do squirrels actually use their tails for? A squirrel’s tail serves as a sort of multitool or all-purpose tool that comes in handy for a wide variety of things. As squirrels are great climbers, they are constantly scurrying up and down trees and across branches, over fences and in between plants, and their tails are mainly responsible for helping them keep their balance as they fearlessly jump from branch to branch in search of food.

Though not very common, a squirrel may occasionally fall off a tree, it will then use its bushy tail as a sort of parachute to slow down and it is also a very soft cushion to break the fall on. Though not great swimmers, a squirrel will use its tail while in the water to help move towards the right direction.

Their tail is very functional in helping the squirrel combat extreme weather conditions, almost like a portable shelter.  Squirrels are warm-blooded creatures who like to be comfortable during cold winter months, and their bushy tails are indispensable tools in keeping their bodies toasty warm. They can be used to shade the squirrel from the glaring sun, helping them maintain a cool body temperature during the hot summer days by diverting some of the blood flow to the tail and thus lowering the main body temperature. It can also help keep the squirrel dry during a light drizzle if there is no shelter available.

But as incredible as all these functions are in helping to protect the squirrel from the elements and possible accidents, their excellent tail is also a communications device. A squirrel will puff out its tail to make itself look bigger when facing a potential predator and the bushy tool is absolutely important when looking for a mate, it’s the squirrel’s ultimate sex appeal. If a squirrel lives with other squirrels (some species do, other don’t) it will use its tail to warn its family members about possible dangers and predators.

Amazingly, though squirrels depend highly on the use of their tail for everyday activities and even survival and mating, a squirrel can live without a tail. Squirrels sometimes lose their tail or parts if it in fights with other squirrels, encounters with predators or accidents like getting it trapped in a door.  So, while it is not essential for survival, the tail serves a variety of functions beyond giving the squirrel its signature look.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Gatto

Elizabeth Gatto is a lover of wildlife and promoter of wildlife conservation. She promotes humane nuisance wildlife removal so people know it is possible to respect nature as well as maintain safety in your home. Find her online at Squirrels in the Attic. Read all of Elizabeth’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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