Nature: Mystery of the twisting-and-turning squirrel
PUBLISHED: 08:02 19 December 2017 | UPDATED: 08:02 19 December 2017
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Rex Hancy has a ringside seat for a grey squirrel’s misfortunes.
When I first saw the very young squirrel in the garden I was mildly amused. It was small enough to have been on one of its first solo excursions and seemed full of high spirits as it endlessly twisted and turned on the spot. Greys are not altogether welcome here and although I wished the tiny creature no harm I made the appropriate noises and gestures I thought would send it on its way. There was no response. The signs were ominous. There was something more sinister in the endless circling among the fallen leaves than I had realised. I attempted a closer look. Not until I was almost within touching distance did the squirrel wriggle through the fence only to repeat the tight circling motion in Alan’s garden.
After I had named the unhappy youngster the squirrel whirling dervish my thoughts turned to Japanese waltzing mice. I have seen film of these poor creatures turning, stumbling and falling over. If you have any respect for living creatures I do not recommend such viewing. My understanding is that they possess some genetic defect and people actually breed them for commercial purposes. The purchasers find the mice highly amusing. I reserve comment.
As for the squirrel, both our neighbours saw the strange behaviour during the following day. The tight circling on the ground was repeated although climbing a tree in a clumsy sort of way was accomplished. My opinion was that very soon one of the cats visiting our gardens would put an end to both the dance and the dancer. We have no idea of the outcome but the performances did stop almost at once.
Having lost the opportunity to examine the squirrel I cannot even hazard a guess to try to explain the behaviour. Some kind of skin irritation encouraging the animal to turn and relieve the discomfort would not have resulted in such continuous twisting. The presence of some external parasites does not seem plausible. Mange mites are a common problem for many small mammals but I have never seen such a response from any unfortunate host. The mystery must remain. Perhaps one day I will find the answer but if it means another animal must suffer I would rather not know.