Raccoons, capybara, hawk vs snake, a squirrel and a d*g

by Matthew Cobb

Its Saturday, and I’ve been in the lab feeding my students’ maggots. I had a few minutes to kill,  so here are four fun items for your delectation.

First, raccoons love Dorritos! Who knew? This via the king of gifs (pronounced…) @JohnRHutchinson:

Second, there’s a whole Tumblr devoted to scores of pictures of animals sitting on capybara, called animalssittingoncapybaras. Most of those animals are either birds or monkeys, and Tumblr seems not to favour crediting photographers. Here are two examples – I can’t find credits for these, even with Google image search (a couple of Russian sites seem to have the earliest dates, but no photo credits that I can see).

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A less amiable animal interaction was photographed on 27 December in Los Angeles by ‘David A’. This juvenile Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) got more than it bargained for when it tried to eat an adult San Diego Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer). The pair suddenly plummeted to the ground in front of David and he took this snap:

Look at the sheer outrage in the bird’s eyes! This wasn’t supposed to happen! The LA Natural History Museum bl*g reports:

The likely scenario is that this juvenile hawk spotted the snake and thought it would be a tasty meal.  However, while tasty, a snake of this size is not necessarily an easy meal for a young hawk. A big snake means a big defense.  Any misplaced grab by the hawk, in which the talons are far back on the snake means that the snake gets multiple loops around the bird to constrict it. This appears to be what is happening here with the gopher snake constricting the hawk’s abdomen and apparently pinning back one talon. The defense was enough to impair flight and the pair ended up in the middle of the street. David observed the pair for five minutes, during which time the snake slowly freed itself, and both eventually departed the area.

Finally a rare appearance of a d*g on WEIT, as this squirrel tries to hide a nut in its fur. Where else?

29 Comments

  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Capybaras can be aggressive so I’m surprised the monkey was allowed to maul it like that! I love capybaras though – all cavies are cute!

    I like how the squirrel tried to cover the nut up with the fur! That person must find things stashed everywhere in the house!

  2. Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    If I ever start a taxi company, I’ll name it, “Capybara Express.” Or something like that….

    b&

  3. Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    You feed your students maggots? I feed mine M&M’s.

    • Draken
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      …which demonstrates the importance of placing the possessive apostrophe correctly. I’ve become so accustomed to the Text Message Generation’s misuse of its/it’s/the sister’s/the sisters’ etc. that I read past this one on first reading.

    • Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      My brain will not let me see apostrophes if the result is funny.

  4. Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Accipiter fail.

  5. mordacious1
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I think the hawk has a “WTF?” look in his eyes.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, hawk is all, “Hey, is that a camera?! This picture better not get on the internet!”

      • merilee
        Posted February 8, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        Honey badger wouldn’t give a s**t…He’d eat the snake for a week.

  6. Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Squirrels bury nuts, but then have no idea where they buried them – how did that squirrel expect to find the nut it buried in the dog’s hair? I wonder, in the wild, whether they have any way of identifying the sites where they earlier planted nuts or if they just root around in their local area and happen to come across them, by chance?

    • Erik Verbruggen
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      I have the feeling that the squirrel is just very confused that he can dig virtually nowhere, given the artificial environment. This stress causes it to display behaviour it wouldn’t normally outside.

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      I’m pretty sure they don’t keep track of which nuts they buried where. At least not in my backyard. As long as some squirrels are burying nuts in the area, they will later be able to find some in the same area. Some sort of group/kin thing.

      • Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        That would make sense if all the local squirrels were kin, but presumably if they weren’t, a squirrel that nommed all the available nuts, rather than burying them would have a selection advantage over those squirrels that buried nuts that would in all likelihood be snaffled by an unrelated squirrel.

        • Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

          To be fair, I think it rather has more to do with the brainpower of the average squirrel — or, rather, lack thereof. I don’t think there’s much chance that, six months later, they’ll be able to remember where they buried a nut. I know I wouldn’t be able to. So, they bury lots of nuts lots of places and look for nuts in the same types of places as they’d be likely to bury them.

          Plus, even if they’re not siblings, all squirrels in any given sphere of nut-burrying are going to at least be relatively close cousins, and all will have whatever complex of genes it is that compels the nut-burrying behavior. It’s in the best interests of that genetic material for the squirrels to not be picky about whose nuts they bury and whose they dig up.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted February 8, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

            But see Jim Thomerson’s #10, which suggests that squirrels may have some memory retention of their cache locations. It may be that the squirrels we observe are less competent outside of their natural environment, but I can hardly claim that my own observations are more than anecdotal.

            I have an inkling that if squirrels were totally unable to remember where their caches are, then since there is a cost involved in caching (less food, exposure to predators etc.), the system would be open to exploitation by opportunistic non caching squirrels who would get the benefit of the caches, without the cost of caching.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      I’d consider this a case of externalized memory. That is, the squirrel doesn’t have to keep a mental list of where each nut is buried. He just has to bury them in places that look like plausible nut burial sites, because those are the kind of sites he’s going to be searching for nuts later in the season. The recall cues are in the environment, not in his head.

      It’s like you don’t have to specifically remember where you put your car keys every time you come home. You just look for them in the places where you typically leave them.

    • Alektorophile
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Judging from the number of walnut saplings I find sprouting in unexpected places every spring, the nut recovery ability of my local squirrels is far from perfect! Later generations of squirrels will of course benefit, as some of those saplings will grow into proper trees and fruit.

  7. Matt G
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    The squirrel is thinking “I’m pretty sure d*gs are marsupial…”.

  8. spirula
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Near the end, the squirrel was on the right track to find a hole to stuff that nut in. That would have been epic.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted February 9, 2014 at 3:11 am | Permalink

      As would an Acorn Woodpecker trying the same thing.

  9. spirula
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone know how common hitching a ride on another animals is for non-human primates? I’ve seen other monkeys using dogs and cats as the “beast of burden” too. Makes me wonder if humans do it with camels, horses, oxen etc. because of an inherited trait.

  10. Jim Thomerson
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    http://jacobs.berkeley.edu/pdf/Jacobs_AB91.PDF

    Here is a study which shows grey squirrels remember where the hid their nuts.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      That study shows that squirrels have a good success rate at recovering their cached nuts. The authors take this to mean that the squirrels are good at remembering where they hid the nuts, but it’s not clear to me that their experimental design can distinguish this explanation from, say, recognizing a class of plausible hiding places or other environmental cues.

      • Posted February 8, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        If they were recognizing environmental cues, then in order to get a better success rate on their own caches, wouldn’t each squirrel need to have a different set of cues?

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted February 8, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

          Right. But that doesn’t strike me as that implausible. Each squirrel wants to hide his nuts in places where he’s more likely to recover them than some rival squirrel is. So it makes sense that he’d have some idiosyncratic criteria for choosing (and later recognizing) cache sites distinct from those of his competitors.

          I’m not saying that this is what happens. But I don’t see that the authors of the study have adequately controlled for this possibility. They basically just assume that finding your own nut again means you must have remembered where you put it.

  11. merilee
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Bernese Mtn Dogs are soooo mellow!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 9, 2014 at 2:57 am | Permalink

      I’m not a dog lover but if I had to have one, it’d be a laid-back pooch like that. 🙂

  12. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted February 9, 2014 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    ‘animalssittingoncapybaras’ – what an irresistible title.

    There must be something about capybaras – they must be exceptionally tolerant of being sat on. And, I suppose, offer a convenient observation platform for birds.

    While some of those photos are posed (e.g. the hamsters), there’s no way anyone could pose a DUCK sitting on a capybara. The general expression of resigned amiable dumbness that capybaras have just makes the photos all the more engaging.

  13. Posted February 10, 2014 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    That’s a Spider Monkey riding on the Capybara’s back.

    I don’t know about the US, but in most European countries it is against the law to keep squirrels as pets.


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