I’ve recently discovered that there’s a lot more to squirrels than bushy tails and quick movements. These fascinating little creatures are full of quirks and clever intricacies that make it possible for them to survive and thrive in the wild.
Did you know, for example, that squirrels sometimes only pretend to bury nuts to confuse or mislead potential thieves?
In the course of finding out more about squirrels and their various habits, I’ve come across one question quite a few times: do squirrels play dead? Of course, I just had to know the answer, so I did some research and was pretty amazed by what I learned.
The answer isn’t a simple or definitive one. In fact, there are a few things that squirrels do which may make them appear dead, even though they’re actually okay. In this article,
I’ll share the possible reasons why squirrels may be “playing dead” and how to establish what’s going on with them. I’ll also answer the question of whether or not it’s possible to train them to play dead.
Do Squirrels Play Dead?
Squirrels do not play dead, but they sometimes display behaviors that make it appear as though they are dead. Firstly, when they hibernate, their breathing rate slows to an almost imperceptible beat, making it very difficult to tell if they’re alive.
They also do not respond to sound or touch. Secondly, when squirrels go into shock, they may become still and unresponsive and appear deceased.
It has also been reported that on rare occasions, squirrels may become perfectly still and unmoving to throw off potential predators. This is not exactly like playing dead, but it looks as though they’ve passed away when they lie very quietly in strange positions.
Similarly, they are known to bask on warm stones or concrete belly-down and spread-eagled, which is also misleading at first glance.
Whatever the reason for their performance, it’s best to leave squirrels be, as they are wild animals unaccustomed to human interaction. If you notice signs of visible injury, you can try to rescue a squirrel by wrapping it in a towel (leave room for breathing) and getting it to the vet.
If you see squirrels “playing dead” in the winter months, they’re hibernating and will be unresponsive to touch or loud noises.
Why Do Squirrels Play Dead?
As we have established, squirrels do not play dead in the sense that they act as if they are deceased. Instead, they may appear lifeless at times as a result of hibernation, shock, to ward off predators, or simply because they are bathing in the sun on a warm surface.
With the exception of shock, each of these behaviors is perfectly normal and is no cause for concern.
Squirrels hibernate and slow their heart rates and metabolic systems to an almost unconscious state in order to preserve energy during the cold winter months. In the weeks and days leading up to hibernation, they bulk up with extra fat to insulate their bodies and to keep them nourished during their sleep.
Hibernation can be deceiving, as squirrels are also completely unresponsive in this state, waking up only once they are ready.
Shock in squirrels presents differently. They become perfectly still, glassy-eyed, and unresponsive. This is usually an indication of pain, injury, fear, or a severe fall, and they may require medical assistance.
Another reason why squirrels may appear to be playing dead is when they lie very still in flat or spread-out positions to confuse predators or simply because they feel like relaxing. Usually, they will jump up and disappear as soon as they are approached.
Can You Train A Squirrel To Play Dead?
Squirrels are exceptionally intelligent animals, and when tamed, they can be trained to perform a variety of tricks, like playing dead. That being said, however, they are incredibly difficult to train, and it will take plenty of positive reinforcement, patience, and consistency.
How successful your training is also depends on the complexity of what it is you’re trying to teach them. And, of course, on the bond between human and squirrel.
Although they are wild animals, there have been cases in which squirrels have been rescued by humans and become incredibly sweet and loyal pets. Given how smart they are (and how much they love treats!), it makes sense that they can be trained to come when called and to perform tricks.
Training is different for all animals, though, and some squirrels may be more adept at learning than others.
Similarly, it will also require a strong bond between a particular squirrel and its owner. A trick like playing dead is not that easy to “explain” or for a squirrel to learn off the bat, so patience will be key.
It is commonly agreed that the best way to train squirrels is with a reward system to incentivize them to learn. Successful training requires at least 30 minutes to an hour each day of repetition and reward.
Squirrels may seem like nothing more than rodents to some, but ultimately, they’re smart, fascinating, and very good at negotiating life in the wild. Hibernation, for example, is an intricate process that allows them to survive in conditions that would be otherwise unbearable. Shock, too, is a way for a squirrel to protect itself or indicate that something is wrong. When it comes to “playing dead” to avoid predators, we have to appreciate the cuteness and humor in what they are trying to do. And while it may be a strange sight, don’t be alarmed if you see a squirrel spread-eagled on the sidewalk, only to approach and have them bolt away. You’ve probably just interrupted a tanning session.