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Infrared Squirrel Tails
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ground squirrel

One of the problems in the natural world is the balance between predators and prey. If there were no predators, plant eating animals would eventually be so numerous that they would run out of food and die of starvation – a death more terrible than the quick death that predators inflict upon them. If predators were too efficient, they could wipe out the plant eaters they prey on, and then they would die of starvation. There is a delicate balance between the two.

One of the factors contributing to this balance is the presence of highly designed systems in the prey which protect them from predators. Ground squirrels offer a great example of this. A California study shows a highly designed system that prevents them from their primary enemy, the rattlesnake. The rattlesnake has a highly designed system of its own that helps it to find its prey. Rattlesnakes have sensors in their cheeks which pick up infrared radiation, or heat radiation, given off by warm-blooded animals. On a totally dark night a rattlesnake can see a mouse or other warm-blooded prey because it can see the heat radiation coming from the animal. Man has copied this system to make infrared scopes which allow night vision, used by the military.

The problem is that an animal like a ground squirrel could be wiped out by rattlesnakes if it did not have some method of combating the infrared abilities of the snake. Scientists studying this relationship have seen that when a rattlesnake is around ground squirrels, the squirrels move their tails up and down in a display that is called “flagging.” The squirrels will kick sand at the snake and nip at the snake’s tail, but while they are doing this their tail is moving in a wild, erratic motion. Studies have shown that when the squirrel starts the flagging behavior, the tail heats up giving off larger and larger amounts of infrared radiation. This floods the rattlesnake’s infrared sensor so much that the snake may give up and crawl away.

What is absolutely amazing is that if a gopher snake, that does not have the infrared sensing ability, approaches the squirrel, the squirrel’s tail doe not heat up! Only when the squirrel is endangered by snakes with infrared ability does the tail heat up and give off the flood of infrared signals.

Trying to explain how the squirrels can recognize the type of snake approaching them and determine whether to heat up or not, is an incredible challenge if you try to maintain that it came about by mechanical chance processes. We would suggest that there is design in the survival equipment of all living things, and this is a powerful example of the wisdom and design that God built into all parts of the natural world.

Science News, June 26, 2004, page 403
“predation,” “spermophilus,” Wikipedia




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