California Ground Squirrel, Spermophilus beecheyi: Preliminary Research By Masha Lifshin
(04/30/09 08:26:40)Related animal: Ground Squirrel This species of ground squirrel is in the suslik genus, and shares a family with marmots and prairie dogs. The ground squirrels live in holes they burrow through the ground, sometimes singly and sometimes communally, over generations. The tunnels are 4-5 inches in diameter and can be hundreds of feet in length with tens of openings. Squirrels spend most of their lives within 150 feet of the burrows. Ground squirrels enjoy sun bathing, dust bathing, and grooming as well as the vigilant standing position they are well known for.
It is fascinating that ground squirrels are the first and only animal we know about, as of August, 2007, that communicates by infrared. They do this as part of their ongoing, surprisingly fierce defense against snakes, with whom they have co-evolved in California for at least 10-12 million years. When rattlesnakes evolved venom, the ground squirrels evolved anti-venom in the form of a blood protein present in adults. Ground squirrel pups, however, are vulnerable, so the mother chews on shed rattlesnake skins to transfer the scent to herself and her pups by licking. Studies show that this practice decreases the likelihood of detection by rattlesnakes. Ground squirrels also confront snakes, will throw dirt and debris, and can bite and swipe at snakes' tails. Despite all this, studies have suggested that a rattlesnake diet is 70% ground squirrel pup. Burrowing owls are also entertwined in an ecological relationship with ground squirrels and rattlesnakes. Burrowing owls, who actually don't burrow but depend on ground squirrel holes for shelter, imitate the sound of a rattlesnake to scare ground squirrels and other threats away from the appropriated holes. It is one of the few examples of an auditory imitation of a dangerous/venomous animal.
A potential avenue for collaboration with ground squirrels is their prolific digging behavior, which could allow for a collaborative earth works piece. Another the potential for built environments suited to their particular sunning and bathing behaviors. Also, squirrels communicate with each other through vocalizations, so sound and auditory projects are a possibility. And of course it would be exciting to attempt to communicate with the squirrels by infrared. In general, the research into their behavior with rattlesnakes suggests that ground squirrels are fearless, even risk takers, and have the potential to be dynamic collaborators.
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California Ground Squirrel Info
(A curiosity) First Western zoological identification of 'Beechey's Marmot'
Ground Squirrels Repel Gopher Snake
Ground Squirre Stock Footage
The Living Desert (1953), Round Tailed Ground Squirrel Edition