Squirrels with Tangled Tails

In the wild, squirrels make their nests of dried leaves and branches.  They often have multiple nests, in case one is destroyed.  A strange natural accident that sometimes occurs is sap from pine branches that the nest is constructed of can adhere to the squirrels' tails and ultimately to each other's tails.  Squirrels normally have litters of 3 to 5 babies.  As they are fed in the nest, they are quite "squirmy" and move around frequently.  Once their tails become stuck together, movement is limited amongst them and they jump under and over each other trying to reposition themselves.  In the process, they literally knot or braid themselves together.  The squirrels pull in many directions, thereby worsening the situation.  They can actually live quite a long time like this, as the mother continues to feed them.

If you come across this situation, cover the squirrels completely with a large towel or blanket. Using HEAVY leather gloves, or a shovel, carefully place the entire group of squirrels into a box.  Cover the box with a lid and tape it shut.  Punch air holes in it. Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately for help!   

Once the rehabilitator receives the animals, they will continue to provide the requisite care. The group of 6 squirrels pictured below was found dragging around 3 of its dead siblings in a garden.

Upon turnover to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, it requires two people to resolve the situation.  As in this case, one rehabilitator covers the heads of the squirrels that are still alive and controls their movement.  One of the rehabilitators should use gloves and take care to prevent the other rehabilitator from being bitten as well as allow that person to work freely either barehanded or wearing thin gloves, as this is a delicate procedure.  A squirrel's tail is composed of tiny bones and can easily be broken or torn off by the rehabilitators trying to help it, or by the other squirrels who are attempting to escape in all directions from the sheer terror of the predicament. Debris is all removed.

It is easier to improve the situation by removing the dead bodies from the entanglement.  This is done by removing the tails of the carcasses at the base.   If no squirrels are dead, then the procedure is even more complicated and the likelihood of breakage is even greater.  Although a squirrel can live with a shortened tail, it is used for warmth while sleeping, as well as for balance, and communication and is a disability.

The rehabilitators will carefully untwist the braided creatures.  Once this is done, the sap on the freed animals must be cleaned off using Dawn Dish-washing Detergent. They are then treated for shock and can be released back into the wild if they are old enough.

For more information on this phenomenon of tangled tails, please google "squirrel kings".

(c) Messinger Woods Wildlife Care and Education Center

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