A Science Mystery
I was leading a hike on the Diablo Lake Trail during our August Family Getaway, when one of the participants noticed something odd on the ground at the side of the path. We all stopped and got down on our hands and knees to see what he had found.
At first, it looked like a really big feather. It was about five inches long, an inch-and-a-half wide, and furry, in short, a tail that was detached from some sort of small-ish mammal. I picked it up, deciding to bring it back to the Learning Center with me to see if I could figure out what it came from and why it was laying next to the trail.
A quarter-mile farther up the trail we found a banana slug, and when we got down to look at it, we realized that it was on top of another tail. Where are these detached tails coming from?
After puzzling about it for a while with some of my coworkers, I decided to ask our Science Coordinator, Jeff Anderson, to see if he had any ideas. And he did! The conclusion? A flying squirrel. The anatomy index at flyingsquirrels.com has this to say:
Flying squirrels have “break-away” tails. Should a predator attack and grab a flyer’s tail, escape is possible, if only at the cost of part of its tail, not its life. The sight of a wild flying squirrel with half a tail is not an uncommon sight. The affected squirrel makes adjustments to this loss and can live a normal life afterwards.
To learn more about flying squirrels, visit www.flyingsquirrels.com