Squirrels!




Squirrel!

Originally uploaded by sindy.

For some time now, squirrels have regularly been taunting and wreaking havoc on my plants and balcony in general. Well, it’s really just one squirrel– pictured here, the little devil– and basically, he is slowly driving me nuts (no pun intended) by regularly digging up my plants and kicking up dirt all over my balcony.

When I first moved out to the Bay Area for school, I was amazed at how tame squirrels were, especially on the Stanford campus. I grew up living within a 50-mile radius on New York City my entire life and back East, squirrels are afraid of human beings, like most wild animals are. Like George laments in the Seinfeld episode about the unsaid agreement between pigeons and humans, I thought there was an unsaid agreement between squirrels and humans: we try not to hit them with our cars, they leave us alone. Specifically, they scamper away when we’re around. Apparently, not so in California– they are not the least bit frightened by people and they simply hang around. They’re not even looking for a food hand out. They’re just going about their business. It is the strangest thing and certainly takes getting used to.

Don’t get me wrong– I have nothing against squirrels. I think they’re pretty cute actually and might even want to pet one, if it weren’t for the fact that they’re basically rodents, carry all sorts of disease– including plague– and even if they’re trained to feed from your hand, often mistake fingertips for food.

You see, squirrels, cute and harmless as they may seem, are not the brightest animals in the world and it amazes me that they have somehow managed to survive this long as a species. (Have you ever seen the confusion and utter lack of instinctual decision making capacity of a squirrel trying to cross a street?) From what I can gather, persistence is their most admirable trait. My daily squirrel visitor (I should really come up with a name for him) lives in the tree whose branches hang over my balcony and lead a convenient path right to my sego palm. And every day, I watch this poor squirrel, I’m assuming, either bury or look for nuts in the several potted plants of varying sizes I have on my balcony. Do you know why he does this constantly? Well, squirrels have very limited memories and never actually remember where exactly they buried their nuts– instead, they use spatial clues to remember, such as always burying nuts on the north side of trees. So, instead of X marks the spot, you get X marks every spot on the north side of the tree. How efficient.

In any case, I’m not sure what spatial clue this one is using, but this squirrel has convinced himself that he always buries his nuts somewhere in these potted plants. Well, because he is constantly digging up these plants and kicking up dirt everywhere, I am often forced to add dirt, reset the plants, etc. and in the process, I have never found anything buried. Not one single nut or anything remotely resembling something a squirrel might want to eat.

But who am I to judge?

Anyway, there are worse things squirrels can do to you in terms of being household pests, so I have come to accept this sad state of affairs. But apparently, weird behavior among squirrels is a particular phenomenon in my city– after several actual squirrel “attacks” (yes, more than just one or even a few) in a local park, the city officials actually want to trap and euthanize “aggressive” squirrels. It’s launched a big controversy of course and now they’re looking to alternatives to stop the wave of attacking squirrels. Read all about it: Online outrage over Mountain View squirrel-killing plan.

If this isn’t proof that the Earth is turning against us, I don’t know what is.

(For more fun squirrel facts, check out the squirrel Wikipedia entry.)