California Ground Squirrel
Nature in Santa Clarita, it’s not what you look at but what you see.
Last week I took a short trip into Towsley Canyon, where I found the ground alongside the road was so pot marked with holes that it looked as though someone had attacked it with a giant 3-hole punch. California ground squirrels made these 4 inch holes, which serve as entrances to their underground burrows.
Their burrows are located 2-4 feet beneath the surface of the soil and may be 5-30 feet or more in length. Each burrow may have more than one entrance. Within this system of burrows, a colony of ground squirrels sleep, store food, rear their young and hide from predators.
Ground squirrels are diurnal, which means they are active during the day. On a warm spring day, especially in the mid-morning or early afternoon, you can find them out and about, munching on grasses. As the season progresses, they switch to seeds and nuts, or maybe an occasional insect. But they won't go too far from their holes - maybe a radius of 75 yards. You see, Red-tailed hawks are out and about too, and the ground squirrel will flee to the safety of its den when threatened by a raptor.
But ground squirrels do not always flee from a predator. If a California ground squirrel finds a rattlesnake nearby, sometimes it will harass the snake by running around the snake, kicking sand at it, and biting the snake's tail.
But a ground squirrel's most amazing defense takes advantage of the rattlesnake's ability to sense infrared radiation. The ground squirrel will shunt blood to its tail, making it warmer by up to 2 degrees C, and then wave its tail back and forth in front of the snake. Scientists describe this behavior as "flagging". They are not sure whether the hot tail confuses the snake or mimics the signal from another threatening animal. Either way, this time it's the snake that flees, not the ground squirrel.
And here you thought they were just another cute little helpless critter.
Our next Bird Hike is scheduled at Towsley Canyon on Saturday, April 21 from 8:00-10:00 AM. TowsleyCanyon is located on the Old Road, west of I-5 and about 1/4 mile south of the Calgrove exit.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
For our complete hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, go to www.LAMountains.com.
To see what's playing on radio station KHTS, go to www.hometownstation.com/or tune in to AM 1220.