Why Do Squirrels Lie Flat?

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).

You can't see me! Lying flat helps squirrel blend into the environment to avoid detection. Photo: Mr.TinDC.

You can’t see me! Lying flat helps squirrel blend into the environment to avoid detection. Photo: Mr.TinDC.

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.

Squirrels Lie Flat to Rest

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

Lying flat on this telephone pole, lets the squirrel rest and sleep without falling off.  Photo: Karen, CC BY 2.0

Lying flat on this telephone pole, lets the squirrel rest and sleep without falling off. Photo: Karen, CC BY 2.0

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