Eau de Snake

California ground squirrels avoid snakes by trying to smell like them

04-01-2008 // Hannah Schardt

IF YOU CAN'T beat 'em, smell like 'em. That seems to be the strategy used by California ground squirrels and rock squirrels to ward off snake attacks. Scientists at the University of California–Davis observed the rodents chewing up bits of discarded snake skin and then licking themselves, passing the snake scent to their own fur. Researchers surmise that the squirrels use the scent to cover up their own odor, particularly at night while they are asleep and vulnerable in their burrows. "It's a nice example of the opportunism of animals," says study coauthor Donald Owings.

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