I saw a squirrel the other day without a tail and I hardly recognized it as a squirrel. I decided to look into what it might be missing out on.
The critter I saw was probably an Eastern Grey squirrel, even though it was black and we are on the west coast. They come in black or grey and were introduced to Stanley Park from the east about a hundred years ago.
I don't know if squirrel's use its tail to keep the sun off, but the Greek origins of the word "squirrel" mean something like, "one who stands in the shadow of its tail."
The squirrel may have lost its tail to a predator. This person suggests his pet squirrel would use the tail to test out some thing unfamiliar first and thrust out when surprised. Sometimes it can lose some of the tail sheath and a few of the vertebrae to escape the grasp of a predator, perhaps a raccoon, or coyote. The hairs can grow back, but not the meat and bones. I guess losing your tail is better than losing your life, unless you had extreme self-image issues.
The tail helps balance the squirrel as it jumps from tree to tree, and helps it make quick turns or even just resting on a branch. I wonder if this squirrel will now lead a more sedentary life, watching TV in its nest or something.
The fluffy tail can act as a duvet in cold weather. So that squirrel is going to be missing that, although it's not so bad in Vancouver. But a squirrel can use the tail to control body temperature by shunting blood to it to cool off in summer or keep blood in its core to stay warmer in winter. Some ground squirrels heat up their tail and wave it around to intimidate poisonous snakes that sense heat.
The big bushy tail seems to help slow its descent. The Japanese have an expression, "Even monkeys fall from trees," meaning something like even scienstigators (my newly invented title) make mistakes. Anyway, it seems to apply to squirrels. And they may also use dropping out of a trees as an exit strategy. The effect of falling out of a tree is size dependent. For small things it's no big deal. For bigger things like us, it's bad. Squirrels are on the edge.
Squirrels also tell tales with their tails. A squirrel flicks its tail when alarmed and fluffs when being aggressive. A juvenile has a striped pattern on its tail, which disappears after 16 months. When approaching the opposite sex, a mature squirrel waves and shivers its tail.
Many of these observations are just anecdotal, so they could use more study. But it does seems like that squirrel missing a tail is going to be missing out on a lot. Anyone know of a squirrel prosthetics charity?