Squirrels ‘splooting’ is just a way of them beating the heat

Last week, during California’s worst September heatwave on record, Akvile DeFazio noticed that the squirrels in her La Verne neighborhood were acting strangely: “Just plastering on the sidewalk,” she said, not moving.

“It was just really bizarre behavior that I hadn’t seen before,” DeFazio said. “I’ve seen squirrels all my life and I’ve never seen squirrels splash on the ground like that.”

At first, she said, she was worried they might be sick, so she kept her distance. But a few days later, while scrolling on Twitter, she saw an article about the phenomenon that has come to be known as “splotting,” a way squirrels and some other animals spread out to stay cool as temperatures rise.

“Bears do it, squirrels do it, bunnies do it, dogs do it [too]said Daniel Blumstein, a professor in UCLA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “They get really flat when they try to shed heat.”

People across California have been fascinated by squirrels “plotting” and sharing pictures and videos of the animals online during the unprecedented heatwave on sidewalks or backyard patios.

And recent interest in rodent behavior has stretched across coasts and cities this summer, spurring social media PSAs the New York City Parks Departmentthe Colorado governor and the National Park Service, who shared images of bears and turtles in the “spread eagle” position.

Alison Hermance, a spokeswoman for Wildcare Wildlife Hospital in San Rafael, said the facility received a spike in concerned calls about squirrels “lying flat on their stomachs” during the heatwave.

“This is not a medical concern for an adult squirrel,” Hermance said. “It’s a cooling behavior, it’s a relaxing behavior.”

She called it an “adorable behavior” that many people might recognize from their dogs sprawling, perhaps on a cool tiled floor.

“To access something cool on the belly, you see a lot of animals doing that,” Hermance said. She said that part of the body of squirrels and dogs has slightly less fur and lots of blood vessels, making it easier to cool down faster.

Selena Vidya, who lives in Sherman Oaks, now calls herself an “amateur squirrel splooter spotter” after learning the term this summer.

“I honestly thought they were sunbathing the longest until I found out what it was,” she said.

Some scientists call this practice “heat dumping,” and while it’s not exactly clear where the term “sploot” came from, Blumstein thinks it could be linked to corgis, which are often seen sprawling.

“That’s where I learned the word,” Blumstein said of his dog. “Many mammals have less fur on their bellies; By lying flat on a rock, they can transfer the coolness of the rock… to their body.”

Denys Hemen, hospital superintendent at the California Wildlife Center in Malibu, said many animals, like squirrels, are spreading while people stay indoors in extreme heat.

“We’re all hot, we’re all giving off heat — animals do that too,” Hemen said.

Though splooting adult squirrels isn’t a cause for concern, Hemen said baby squirrels often struggle in the heat, but for different reasons.

He said his center received “an enormous number of calls about baby squirrels found on the ground” during the heatwave, likely because they got too hot in their nests, tried to get out and fell.

Hermance said her wildlife hospital in Northern California has the same problem.

“It’s really, really bad. We get groups of squirrels coming in when the whole nest falls off,” Hermance said.

People often find them on the floor, she said, and depending on how long they’ve been there, they could have “incredible heat exposure” or hyperthermia. Most are able to recover, she said, but recent record temperatures are making things more difficult.

And with the funny word and adorable photos going viral on social media, Blumstein said it’s “it’s as good as ever for people to take climate change seriously,” noting how many animals have already died in extreme temperatures .

“While that’s sweet, it’s also a wake-up call that human-caused climate change — these heat events — are really tough on wildlife,” Blumstein said. “Without air conditioning, people face serious problems and wildlife cannot escape [the extreme heat] are also facing serious problems.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-15/hot-weather-squirrels-splooting-behavior Squirrels ‘splooting’ is just a way of them beating the heat

Alley Einstein

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