• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Animal Note/Squirrels

Air Date: Week of

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on how Belding's ground squirrels figure out who's closely enough related to be worth risking your life for. There's more than meets the eye to those welcome kisses amongst ground squirrels.


VILLIGER: When Belding’s ground squirrels touch noses upon meeting, it’s more than just a friendly hello. New research suggests they’re checking each other out to see who’s worth protecting. These small mammals live in open meadows, making them easy targets for predators. Raising an alarm, or helping fight off an intruder, puts a squirrel at greater risk of death than if she just looked out for number one.

But, from time to time, scientists observed the squirrels acting in these altruistic ways. Nepotism likely explains a squirrel’s decision whether to act. According to evolution, it makes sense to stick your neck out at personal risk if you’re protecting close relatives. Even if you die, most of your genes will be passed on by those relatives.

But in a bustling field filled with other squirrels, how can you be sure who’s close enough to warrant the risk? To find out, researchers presented squirrels with facial gland secretions. The more distant the relative, the longer a squirrel investigated the odor.

Since a squirrel can distinguish between mother, grandmother and cousin, sniffing for these scents explains how she can identify whose genes are close enough to want to protect. In the world of Belding’s ground squirrels, those welcome kisses are really a way to figure out if it’s worth risking your life for this seeming stranger. It gives a whole new meaning to "kissing cousins." That’s this week’s Animal Note. I’m Maggie Villiger.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Bedrock woth Kyo, "For What You Dream Of," TRAINSPOTTING (Telstar – 1996)]



Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth