Other than their ability to effortlessly shoot up and down tree trunks and hop around from branch to branch, the Grey Squirrel’s (Sciurus carolinensis) most noteworthy feature is it’s expressive, bushy tail. It doubles its apparent length, size and demeanor. Without these tails, it would appear that Camp Salmen has an infestation of disinterested but agile, grey-brown rats scurrying about. While there are many similarities between the two creatures, the addition of this fluffy, furry, flexible feature is a great identifier and gives the animal a personality that convinces some people the animal is somehow the “cuter” one of the tw
What is a squirrel’s tail good for? Well, on a squirrel, other than deflecting criticism for its misbehaviors, it’s got a number of key functions:
Firstly, it’s got to be properly managed. The animal is obliged to keep a 90-degree kink in its spine at all times to keep the thing from dragging and collecting mud and dirt. And of course, there’s the grooming to keep the thing neat, pretty and floofed-up in order to maintain appearances.
It is a “window to the soul,” as its motion expresses the animal’s many moods – twitching with anger and agitation at the presence of a rival male, for instance, or a nearby predator or displayed in a state of calm fluffiness that expresses its great happiness and contentment at finding yet another lost nut it had stored last summer.
The tail is renowned as a balancing tool to get the animal through perilous circumstances, like the aforementioned tree hopping. What person has never seen a “tree-rat” scampering overhead on a telephone wire across a busy city street? They hold the thing straight out to get maximum effect from the tail’s weight and twitch it to a fro for balance as it cautiously makes its way across.
In winter the squirrel can turn its tail into a luxuriant stole and wrap it around itself for protection and warmth high up in its tree nest.
In the heat of summer one might notice certain “rattiness” in some of our squirrel’s tails. One reason is that mammals are covered with hair and must loose some of it at this time of year or else they’d become over-insulated and succumb to heat prostration.
Another thing that a squirrel’s tail is good for is, believe it or not, is its use OFF of the squirrel. There is a thriving business in “recycling” used squirrel tails to turn the fur into just the right kind of fly-fishing lure to entice Mr. Trout. Of course, these companies are only interested in squirrels that are “harvested” for the table (“Squirrel, it’s the other red meat!”) and not wantonly slaughtered just for the tails. One ingenious squirrel hunter even hangs one from the muzzle to his rifle to make adjustments for the wind so he van get an accurate shot to efficiently bring Mr. or Mrs. Squirrel home to dinner.