Skip to comments.(Vanity) Chiefly on Squirrels, or, Darwin meets The Michelin Man
Posted on 05/09/2009 10:07:23 AM PDT by grey_whiskers
While driving into work recently, I had a near encounter with a squirrel. I'm sure most of you have had one too. What generally seems to happen is this. The squirrel goes to the edge of the road, and looks around. Then, just when your car gets within range, the squirrel darts in front of you, seemingly trying to see how close it can get to being squished, without actually dying. As an added bonus, sometimes, just as you break, or swerve the other way, it will change course. If you are really lucky, sometimes the critter will zigzag three or four times before careening across the other lane, or returning from whence it came.
Sometimes, if the squirrel is un-lucky, it won't make it. We have another subject for the Calvin and Hobbes "Be Careful, or Be Roadkill" poster.
Q. Why did the squirrel cross the road?
A. It didn't.
Now, the thing which annoyed me -- aside from the "poor little thing" factor, or the inconvenience of swerving -- is the question, "Why can't the little buggers make up their minds?" And the answer struck me -- this is an instinctive, reflexive behaviour -- a small animal running away from a predator will probably get away more often, if it zigzags unpredictably. Each time it zigs, the hunter has to notice, adapt, and change course to match. And since the squirrel is smaller and more nimble, each time it reverses course, it probably gains ground. So this is a workable survival tactic -- as long as you are really being chased by a predator, instead of menaced by steel-belted radials backed by thousands of pounds of steel, which continues more or less in a straight line. In fact, a lot of people would call this an evolutionary adaptation.
Now, I'm not here to start a flame war, but just to ask a couple of interesting questions which this raises. First of all, if this zig-zag evasion is an evolutionary advantage, since those squirrels who don't zig tend to be lunch, and so don't breed as well as the ones who get away, why haven't we seen an evolutionary adaptation? After all, running like blazes in a straight line is more likely to get you across the road safely than doubling back in front of a Toyota. Even if it is an "eco-friendly" model like the Prius. However, this may be over-simplifying things, so let's examine this a little closer.
Exactly how long does it take for natural selection to work its magic? Cars have been on the scene for what, a century or so? In biologic time, that's nothing. And yet, according to the predictions of "punctuated equilibrum", once a sufficiently advantageous change *does* occur, it spreads through the population like wildfire. Then again, some people might object that the opportunities for natural selection in this situation or a bit overstated. What is the relative percentage of squirrels who die from "close encounters of the worst kind" with the Michelin Man ? Remember that adaptations and selection pressure are statistical phenomena. And if the number of squirrels eaten for failing to zig, greatly outnumber those squished by zagging too much, then you're not going to see any change in squirrel behaviour soon. Maybe a 0.1% increase in the chance of survival just isn't enough to select one gene over another?
Or maybe we just haven't had the right mutation yet.
But all this talk of zigging and zagging brings up another possibility. After all, while a lot of the country is urbanized, and squirrels *do* live in the city, there are large parts of the country which are undeveloped, where there are relatively few roads. Wouldn't it be reasonable to expect two separate subgroups of squirrels? One of which lives in the country, and is adapted to carnivores, and another group that lives in the city, and is adapted to cars?
And that brings up one final question. Suppose, just for kicks,that there are two subsets of squirrels around. Let's call them the zigzags (country) and the skid marks (city). How far away from the city do you have to get before the evasion behaviour of the squirrels change? Let's say a couple of squirrels on the boundary of the city -- one a zigzag, one a skidmark -- fall in love and have a nest of young squirrels. By natural selection, of course, those of their young who zig or skid incorrectly will be eliminated from the breeding stock, and the others will survive. The question is, how long does it take for the powers of natural selection to choose one of these genes over the other? (Does one become dominant and one become recessive?) Or, if you really do have two different populations, how many more of this sort of change have to occur before the ziggers split off from the skidders, and you really have two different species?
Tune in next week, when we discuss what cats used to do before there were humans to get them down from trees.
I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that squirrels "adapt" to being around cars. A good number of dogs and cats do.
One thing I think you fail to recognize (sticking up for rural squirrels, here) is their perspective. Meaning that they observe the approaching car from six inches above the ground. Maybe they simply can't process the visual cue quickly enough . . . which might explain the erratic/panicked/whatever behavior.
I don't know, I've never laid my head on the pavement to watch an approaching car. I do know that, when driving, tapping the horn appears to help them make up their minds.
Interesting thoughts. I would guess that cars just aren’t a big enough threat to the general population to make an impact yet. Most of the squirrels in my city live on pretty quiet sidestreets, you usually don’t see them trying to cross 4-lane boulevards. I’m guessing they have a natural tendency to avoid the busy streets, since it must look to them like a constant herd of buffalo moving for 16 hours a day. So, they stay in the parks and quiet residential streets, where they can cross the street 99 times out of 100 without a car in sight.
Also, I don’t think genes can change from dominant to recessive, can they? Recessive genes only gain prominence in a population if the dominant genes are removed from the population. So the recessive genes for blonde hair and fair skin is only common in areas where the dominant genes for brown hair and more pigmented skin was bred out of the population due to environmental pressure.
Move those blonde-haired nordic people to say, Georgia, and mix them with a population where the dominant genes still exist, and in a few generations, the recessive genes will once again be a rarity.
All very interesting, but what I want to know is how they walk on a 120,000-volt power transmission line.
I think it’s because they aren’t grounded, so the current would has no reason to arc through them, or something like that.
They are OK.
It’s when the eagle swoops down to get them that his outside wing feathers touch two lines.
(Indians around Utah have been arrested for picking feathers off the dead, roasted birds under the power lines.)
Squirrel & Dressing
~ 3 - 4 young squirrels
~ 2 sticks butter or margarine
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 2 loaves white bread, toasted
~ 1 dozen eggs
~ 1 box dehydrated vegetable soup (2 pouches)
Clean and remove all hair and shot from squirrels, only the front and hind legs are used. Parboil them in a pan of water on the stove until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Remove the meat and set aside.
Melt the 2 sticks of butter or margarine in a saute pan, add the chopped onion. Saute until the onion is tender.
In a mixing bowl place the toasted bread, add enough milk to soften it. Add the sauted onion/butter mixture, the dozen eggs, and the squirrel meat. To this add one package of the dry soup mix. Take the other package and with a slotted spoon remove and add the dry vegetable flakes. (You don’t want to add all the powder from this package into your dressing, it’ll make it too salty!)
Mix all the ingredients together well.
Place in a 9 x 13 cake pan.
Bake at 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours.
Serve and Enjoy!
(or: Why the Cops Wont Patrol Brice Street)
I never dreamed slowly cruising through a residential neighborhood could be so incredibly dangerous!
Studies have shown that motorcycling requires more decisions per second, and more sheer data processing than nearly any other common activity or sport. The reactions and accurate decision making abilities needed have been likened to the reactions of fighter pilots! The consequences of bad decisions or poor situational awareness are pretty much the same for both groups too.
Occasionally, as a rider I have caught myself starting to make bad or late decisions while riding. In flight training, my instructors called this being behind the power curve. It is a mark of experience that when this begins to happen, the rider recognizes the situation, and more importantly, does something about it. A short break, a meal, or even a gas stop can set things right again as it gives the brain a chance to catch up.
Good, accurate, and timely decisions are essential when riding a motorcycle at least if you want to remain among the living. In short, the brain needs to keep up with the machine.
I had been banging around the roads of east Texas and as I headed back into Dallas, found myself in very heavy, high-speed traffic on the freeways. Normally, this is not a problem, I commute in these conditions daily, but suddenly I was nearly run down by a cage that decided it needed my lane more than I did. This is not normally a big deal either, as it happens around here often, but usually I can accurately predict which drivers are not paying attention and avoid them before we are even close. This one I missed seeing until it was nearly too late, and as I took evasive action I nearly broadsided another car that I was not even aware was there!
Two bad decisions and insufficient situational awareness all within seconds. I was behind the power curve. Time to get off the freeway.
I hit the next exit, and as I was in an area I knew pretty well, headed through a few big residential neighborhoods as a new route home. As I turned onto the nearly empty streets I opened the visor on my full-face helmet to help get some air. I figured some slow riding through the quiet surface streets would give me time to relax, think, and regain that edge so frequently required when riding.
Little did I suspect
As I passed an oncoming car, a brown furry missile shot out from under it and tumbled to a stop immediately in front of me. It was a squirrel, and must have been trying to run across the road when it encountered the car. I really was not going very fast, but there was no time to brake or avoid itit was that close.
I hate to run over animals and I really hate it on a motorcycle, but a squirrel should pose no danger to me. I barely had time to brace for the impact.
Animal lovers, never fear. Squirrels can take care of themselves!
Inches before impact, the squirrel flipped to his feet. He was standing on his hind legs and facing the oncoming Valkyrie with steadfast resolve in his little beady eyes. His mouth opened, and at the last possible second, he screamed and leapt! I am pretty sure the scream was squirrel for, Banzai! or maybe, Die you gravy-sucking, heathen scum! as the leap was spectacular and he flew over the windshield and impacted me squarely in the chest.
Instantly he set upon me. If I did not know better I would have sworn he brought twenty of his little buddies along for the attack. Snarling, hissing, and tearing at my clothes, he was a frenzy of activity. As I was dressed only in a light t-shirt, summer riding gloves, and jeans this was a bit of a cause for concern. This furry little tornado was doing some damage!
Picture a large man on a huge black and chrome cruiser, dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and leather gloves puttering maybe 25mph down a quiet residential street and in the fight of his life with a squirrel. And losing.
I grabbed for him with my left hand and managed to snag his tail. With all my strength I flung the evil rodent off the left of the bike, almost running into the right curb as I recoiled from the throw.
That should have done it. The matter should have ended right there. It really should have. The squirrel could have sailed into one of the pristinely kept yards and gone on about his business, and I could have headed home. No one would have been the wiser.
But this was no ordinary squirrel. This was not even an ordinary pissed-off squirrel.
This was an evil attack squirrel of death!
Somehow he caught my gloved finger with one of his little hands, and with the force of the throw swung around and with a resounding thump and an amazing impact he landed square on my back and resumed his rather anti-social and extremely distracting activities. He also managed to take my left glove with him!
The situation was not improved. Not improved at all. His attacks were continuing, and now I could not reach him.
I was startled to say the least. The combination of the force of the throw, only having one hand (the throttle hand) on the handlebars, and my jerking back unfortunately put a healthy twist through my right hand and into the throttle. A healthy twist on the throttle of a Valkyrie can only have one result. Torque. This is what the Valkyrie is made for, and she is very, very good at it.
The engine roared as the front wheel left the pavement. The squirrel screamed in anger. The Valkyrie screamed in ecstasy. I screamed in well I just plain screamed.
Now picture a large man on a huge black and chrome cruiser, dressed in jeans, a slightly squirrel torn t-shirt, and only one leather glove roaring at maybe 70mph and rapidly accelerating down a quiet residential street on one wheel and with a demonic squirrel on his back. The man and the squirrel are both screaming bloody murder.
With the sudden acceleration I was forced to put my other hand back on the handlebars and try to get control of the bike. This was leaving the mutant squirrel to his own devices, but I really did not want to crash into somebodys tree, house, or parked car. Also, I had not yet figured out how to release the throttle my brain was just simply overloaded. I did manage to mash the back brake, but it had little affect against the massive power of the big cruiser.
About this time the squirrel decided that I was not paying sufficient attention to this very serious battle (maybe he is a Scottish attack squirrel of death), and he came around my neck and got IN my full-face helmet with me. As the faceplate closed partway and he began hissing in my face I am quite sure my screaming changed tone and intensity. It seemed to have little affect on the squirrel however.
The rpms on The Dragon maxed out (I was not concerned about shifting at the moment) and her front end started to drop.
Now picture the large man on the huge black and chrome cruiser, dressed in jeans, a very ragged torn t-shirt, and wearing one leather glove, roaring at probably 80mph, still on one wheel, with a large puffy squirrels tail sticking out his mostly closed full-face helmet. By now the screams are probably getting a little hoarse.
Finally I got the upper hand I managed to grab his tail again, pulled him out of my helmet, and slung him to the left as hard as I could. This time it worked sort-of. Spectacularly sort-of, so to speak.
Picture the scene. You are a cop. You and your partner have pulled off on a quiet residential street and parked with your windows down to do some paperwork.
Suddenly a large man on a huge black and chrome cruiser, dressed in jeans, a torn t-shirt flapping in the breeze, and wearing one leather glove, moving at probably 80mph on one wheel, and screaming bloody murder roars by and with all his strength throws a live squirrel grenade directly into your police car.
I heard screams. They weren't mine...
I managed to get the big motorcycle under directional control and dropped the front wheel to the ground. I then used maximum braking and skidded to a stop in a cloud of tire smoke at the stop sign at a busy cross street.
I would have returned to fess up (and to get my glove back). I really would have. Really. But for two things. First, the cops did not seem interested or the slightest bit concerned about me at the moment. One of them was on his back in the front yard of the house they had been parked in front of and was rapidly crabbing backwards away from the patrol car. The other was standing in the street and was training a riot shotgun on the police cruiser.
So the cops were not interested in me. They often insist to let the professionals handle it anyway. That was one thing. The other? Well, I swear I could see the squirrel, standing in the back window of the patrol car among shredded and flying pieces of foam and upholstery, and shaking his little fist at me. I think he was shooting me the finger
That is one dangerous squirrel. And now he has a patrol car
I took a deep breath, turned on my turn-signal, made an easy right turn, and sedately left the neighborhood.
As for my easy and slow drive home? Screw it. Faced with a choice of 80mph cars and inattentive drivers, or the evil, demonic, attack squirrel of death...Ill take my chances with the freeway. Every time.
And Ill buy myself a new pair of gloves.
Why would you even consider braking or swerving for a bushy-tailed rat? People could get hurt, you know.
And now someone needs to post a picture of that, uh, “ballsy” squirrel that I once saw on fark.com. Heh.
Because they are only on one line, the same reason birds can land on them and not get fried. Let them arc across two of the lines, or touch a ground while still on the line and you will see instant roast squirrel or bird.
One of the funniest pieces I have read in a long time...tears still streaming down my cheeks....LOL and thanks for the laughter.
You’re welcome; I’m really glad you got the kick out of it I do.
I think there will be a slow, but inexorable, survival benefit to those who adapt their ways to our approaching four-wheeled machines. They still have to master the efforts of their chief predators, however.
The use of a horn "toot" sends nearly every critter (including birds) from the roadside, and I highly recommend it.
My contribution here is derived from a friendly association I have made here with chipmunks. Once I've sighted them, I have trained them to immediately race towards me for a sunflower seed reward. It's funny to see them whirl from their intended path to directly respond to my whistle!
....that is funny
belated squirrel ping