Animal behaviorists have observed California ground squirrels and rock squirrels chewing up rattlesnake skin and smearing it on their fur to mask their scent from predators.
Reporting their observations in the journal Animal Behavior, the researchers noted that adult female squirrels and juveniles apply snake scent more often than adult males, which are less vulnerable to predation by snakes. “The scent probably helps to mask the squirrel’s own scent, especially when the animals are asleep in their burrows at night, or to persuade a snake that another snake is in the burrow,” said researcher Barbara Clucas, from the University of California – Davis.
The squirrels are not limited to the use of shed snake skins, added co-researcher Donald Owings. “They also pick up snake odor from soil and other surfaces on which snakes have been resting, and use that to apply scent. Other rodents have been observed using similar behavior,” he explained.