Quora: Why are squirrels so adept at evading predators yet so inept at evading cars?

May 19, 2019

Gray squirrels are the intellectuals of the rodent community. With acute vision and three dimensional mobility, they have developed the memory capacity which allows them to scatter-hoard nuts by burying them for retrieval later.

By comparison the North American red squirrel is so dumb that it stores nuts in hollow trees or in piles under logs, unable to remember where they are unless it runs into the hoard by accident in its daily movements. Red squirrels are prone to lightning-fast, arrow-straight dashes toward a destination. They are also brave to the point of foolishness, apparently believing they can duck a bullet.

I would prefer to talk about the grays, which I quite respect. Grays learn rules of survival and seem to pass them down to subsequent generations. For example, in our woodlot, at the first sign of a human, the squirrels get out of the walnut trees and flee across the forest floor to the other side of the 25 acre plot. This is their response to a pair of determined hunters about ten years ago, and I suppose to the presence of migrating red tailed hawks once the leaves have fallen in fall. But coyotes actively hunt squirrels at this time of year, so there must be some complex calculus of risk/reward going on there somewhere.

Having taken over a large, rambling country house surrounded by walnut trees, I have spent the last ten years establishing the rules for the gray squirrels as they apply to access to the power lines, roof and attic. They seem to learn rules, but are very tenacious once they have established a den in forbidden territory. The only solution at that point is to euthanize every member of that family.

To answer the Quora question, squirrels overthink everything unfamiliar to them. During the Battle of the Attic a few years ago I had live traps baited with black walnuts around the property. One sat on a flat gravel parking area just outside our kitchen. A young male examined the trap and its bait with great care one morning. He kept coming back to it, circling close, but refusing to enter and trip the mechanism. He kept this up so long I shot him.

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