Why do squirrels have tails?

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Squirrels have big, bushy tails, something the cute and fluffy creature has been long since associated with. When you see that bushy tail, whether it be brown, grey or red, you instantly know what kind of animal you’re dealing with, although you know you won’t be looking at it for long. They’re fast, can easily scamper up into trees, and will be long gone by the time you’ve had a chance to jump up. Of course, some of them are more tame than that these days, allowing you to hand feed them. We would not advise this, irrespective of how cute they look. These are WILD animals. They are not only dangerous and could attack at any moment (although probably won’t), but they also carry a number of diseases, many of which could be deadly.

Because their talks are big and bushy, they make for the perfect blanket, giving you one use. Imagine being cold in the winter and having a permanent “fur coat” to wrap around you. That’s what the tail offers the squirrel - something to wrap up in to keep warm.

The tail also offers some protection from the wind and rain, although not an awful lot. And, finally, the tail offers protection from the baking sun too. The bushiness of it works for a great parasol from the sun.

Not just to help keep the squirrel cool, warm or dry, there are other uses to the tail. It is used in balance, which is often the case for animals with tails, and when the squirrel scampers up tree branches and logs, or across tiny wires, the tail is what helps them to keep that centre of gravity. If they didn’t have that, they wouldn’t be half as nimble or agile as they are. And trust us when we tell you that these creatures are ridiculously nimble and agile!

Lastly, the tail is used as a form of communication to other squirrels, and also to other animals. Snakes, for example, are well known to prey on squirrels, and many of them do this using an “ambush” attack. When the prey isn’t looking, the predatory snake will pounce, killing the creature before it even knows what is going on. If a squirrel sees a snake, it will puff up the tail, and move it around. Certain species will also heat their tail up, depending on the kind of snake they come up against. This is something that only works with those snakes that have infrared / heat sensors.

The squirrel will puff and heat up its tail in this manner to alert the snake. Being ambush predators, when the prey knows what’s going on, things get a lot trickier. If they know they have been rumbled, they will generally move along and find another animal to cal their next victim.

Not just warding off predators, the squirrel tail is also used to communicate with others of its own kind. They’re really greedy animals, so they will use their tails to ward off other squirrels that are trying to steal their food. Or their woman. Or their territory. Wagging tails are often a sign to another squirrel that they should back away … fast.

A wave or shiver of the tail is usually a mating call, designed to entice females in to take a closer look, but can also be a sign of distress or alarm. Squirrels know what they mean obviously, but we don't have a full tail-dictionary yet. We don’t quite know what all the tail movements mean.

For more information, you may want to click on one of these guides that I wrote:
How much does squirrel removal cost? - get the lowdown on prices.
How to get rid of squirrels - my main squirrel removal info guide.
Example squirrel trapping photographs - get do-it-yourself ideas.
Squirrel job blog - learn from great examples of squirrel jobs I've done.
squirrels in the attic

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