Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Rodent sex

Two deer, one a buck with a single scrawny antler on the left side of his head, were foraging in my back yard this morning after a recent snowfall. Their muzzles were eye-deep in their search for grass. Then, suddenly, they looked up.

Puffs of fresh snow were exploding from the limbs of a nearby tree.

A couple of red squirrels were chasing up and down and around the tree trunk, back and forth on the branches, leaping from one to another, incredibly fast, scattering the newly fallen snow in all directions. This went on for three or four minutes, until, out of sight behind the fence, the race seemed to have consummated. So to speak.

At least that's what I thought was going on. (I didn't go out to look.) Instead, I went to my computer and Googled "red squirrel."

It turns out the mating chase is a normal part of squirrelly sex. The female goes into estrus for only one day at a time, and on that day she's likely to wander into the territory of nearby males. (Sure enough, most of the year, there's only a single squirrel hanging out around my part of the block.) Females tend to go from territory to territory, mating with four to 16 different guys during the day. Studies have shown that, surprisingly, the mates can include close relatives. (Don't worry: the same studies found that the offspring of such matings are as well-off as any other.)

Anyway, the two deer quickly went back to feeding. No unhealthy fixation on rodent sex for them!

As for me ... well, I've always been interested in kangaroos.

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