Why Do Squirrels Lie Flat?

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If you’ve ever startled a squirrel, you may notice a curious behavior.  Oftentimes, the squirrel will stop what it’s doing and lie flat on the ground.  While it may seem counter-intuitive to suddenly stop in the presence of a danger, the act of lying flat is a protective mechanism for squirrels.  There are several reasons for why squirrels will suddenly lie flat on the ground, a patio railing, or tree branch.

Squirrels Lie Flat to Hide and Survive

First, the act of lying flat hides the lighter colored belly of a squirrel. The fur color on the outer side of a squirrel evolved to help the squirrel blend in with its environment.  If you’ve ever seen a squirrel against the bark of a tree, you will see how well the fur blends with tree bark (there are some exceptions where non-native squirrels have been introduced such as the melanistic eastern gray squirrel found in many communities around the United States).

Second, the posture of lying flat on a surface also helps to protect the vital organs of a squirrel should it be attacked.  This posture also protects the genitalia of male squirrels from being bitten by other squirrels.

Squirrels Lie Flat to Cool Down

Beyond being a defensive strategy, lying flat has other benefits.   Lying flat on a cool surface helps the squirrel cool down by dissipating body heat.  By spreading out the body on a patch of ground that is cooler than the surrounding air, the squirrels allows the superficial blood vessels to be in closer contact with the ground.

A yellow-bellied marmot, a type of ground squirrel, lies on a rock.  Photo: NPS, public domain.
A yellow-bellied marmot, a type of ground squirrel, lies on a rock. Photo: NPS, public domain.

Squirrels Lie Flat to Rest

Lying flat in a tree when resting helps prevent the squirrel from falling out of the tree.

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