No, you did not read the title wrong. Squirrels attacking snakes does sound like something out of a Disney movie, especially if said movie features the squirrel actually winning against this formidable species. However, as implausible as it sounds, squirrels attacking snakes is a real thing.
It’s actually a classic David vs. Goliath tale if you ask me, which makes it a little freaky yet extremely cool. Let’s take a look at how and why squirrels attack snakes.
Squirrels attack snakes to defend and protect their young. Snakes love to eat baby ground squirrels that are only a few months old. Adult squirrels attack snakes by injuring them through bites and kicking gravel. Adult squirrels have quick reflexes, which help them avoid a snake strike. They can also take on the defensive position and warn snakes to leave them alone.
Snakes do not go for adult ground squirrels because they are often resistant to snake venom. Consider it an evolutionary marvel if you will, but many adult squirrels carry a protein in their blood that helps them survive the venom released from a snake bite (source).
Here’s a video of a mother squirrel taking on a snake to protect her babies. Watch the video and you will be AMAZED at what the squirrel can do!
Snake vs. Squirrel: How Do Squirrels Win?
You’ll be surprised to find out that an adult squirrel uses some very interesting tactics to protect themselves against a snake attack. These are:
Defense Tactic #1: Squirrels Use Their Tails For Defense
This probably sounds a bit odd, but a squirrel’s tail is its first line of defense against a snake. Researchers examined the confrontation between rattlesnakes and California ground squirrels. They found some very interesting behavior from the squirrels when anticipating a snake nearby.
Squirrels and Rattlesnakes
When squirrels come face to face with a rattlesnake, they will heat up their tails by 3 degrees and wave them around (source). Since rattlesnakes can sense this heat, they slither away and do not attack them.
It is not entirely clear why this particular maneuver works, but it is assumed that the heated tails are how squirrels warn the snakes that their presence has been noticed. Since snakes attack their prey through an ambush, the heat signature from the tail means that they no longer have the element of surprise.
It is also unclear how the heating mechanism in a squirrel’s tail works. It is not a reflex as they only do it with a rattlesnake. If it is dark, then they move their tails a lot more vigorously too.
Squirrels and Gopher Snakes
When confronted with gopher snakes, the defense tactic changes a little. These snakes cannot sense heat, so the squirrels do not heat their tails in a confrontation. They simply wave them vigorously to warn the approaching adversary.
Besides warning them, the tail flipping also means that the squirrel is not an easy target and is ready to fight. It has also been suggested that these maneuvers make the squirrel appear much larger to the snake. This makes sense as the heated tail gives off a much bigger heat signature. Snakes rely on their infra-red vision to attack their prey and the heat signature throws them off.
Defense Tactic #2: The Walking Dead Move
If you have watched the TV show The Walking Dead, you might be familiar with how humans cover themselves in zombie’s guts to hide from zombies. The California ground squirrel appears to use a similar tactic against rattlesnakes.
A rattlesnake uses its sense of smell when tracking down prey. Adult squirrels will hold skin shed by the snake to mask their scent (source). They have also been observed to eat the snake skin, after which they lick their young ones so that their scent gets masked. You watch the whole thing here:
Snake vs. Squirrel: Deathly Encounters
In some cases, the squirrel DOES NOT defend at all. In fact, they do just the opposite. While researching why and how squirrels attack snakes, we came across several videos and reports of squirrels attacking snakes and actually killing them.
Rock Squirrel Kills and Eats a Snake
In July 2015, the National Park Service of Texas released a photo showing a squirrel eating a snake (source).
It was discovered by one of their park rangers, who went to investigate some noises outside Frijole Ranch in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. To his surprise, there was a fight underway between a squirrel and a snake.
Not only did the squirrel win the fight, but it also ate the entire snake leaving behind a meager 2 inches of what had been the snake’s tail. According to the National Park Service, these rock squirrels normally eat nuts, fruits, and plants. But, they will also eat lizards, bird eggs, and snakes.
Squirrel Shows Snake Who’s Boss
Another video encounter showed a snake basking in the sun when a squirrel crept up on the reptile and attacked by grabbing on to its tail. It’s a careful and prolonged attack, which honestly gives you a fresh perspective of these cute rodents. The way the squirrel asserted its territory and pretty much nibbled the snake to death is fascinating. It’s not even clear why the squirrel decided to attack the snake in the first place, but I’m definitely Team Squirrel. You can watch the whole thing here:
Here are a few more videos showing how these furballs take down snakes and win:
Squirrels Attack Snakes And Win!
Nature can work in very strange ways and squirrels attacking snakes (many types of snakes) is proof of that. We have all heard of the phrase “looks can be deceiving” and one way or another, these feisty furballs get that point across.