Sunday, April 15, 2012

How Squirrels Potty-Train

Did I really need to know this?

In his column ending "Squirrel Week" today, Washington Post Metro section columnist John Kelly reports on how baby squirrels learn to defecate.  It doesn't just come naturally, it seems:

This fascinating bit of information came from Don Moore, associate director of animal care sciences at the National Zoo. Earlier in his career, Don worked in Syracuse, N.Y., rehabilitating baby squirrels. Squirrels are among species — deer are another — where the mother uses her mouth to carry her offspring’s poo and pee away from the nest. This is to protect her litter from predators.
“Evolutionarily, that’s a great strategy,” Don said. “The mother’s removing the only thing that can give [the baby] a scent: the pee and poo.” With no scent to follow, predators can’t find the defenseless baby.
The mother’s selfless act is so hard-wired in a squirrel’s very being that babies can urinate and defecate only after being stimulated by the mother licking around . . . down there.
Orphaned squirrels raised by humans risk becoming constipated and bloated. “The gut stops moving,” Don said. “You don’t want that to happen, so you stimulate them. In fact, you have to start stimulating them just to get them to feed.”
Squirrel moms provide stimulation with their tongues. “We don’t recommend that,” Don said. “We would use a warm, damp washcloth.”
Baby squirrels must have their nether regions stimulated at every feeding from birth to about five weeks of age, when their eyes are open and their fur is coming in.
“It’s a wonderful day when they start doing it themselves,” Don said.
My life could have gone on without knowing that, but it's bound to be a conversation-starter. (Or -stopper?)

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