For the past few days, I’ve watched a fox squirrel in our back yard, who summersaults on the ground. He does it in the same place, which is by a two-foot-long branch that the wind blew out of the nearby tree. The squirrel will lie on his side, and attack that branch, as if he were a cat killing a throw rug. Then he jumps around, and starts again. What the heck? So I searched the heck-sussing Google box for “flipping fox squirrel,” and I found a squirrel expert who calls this behavior “anting.”
Now it starts to make sense. There are ants in that thar branch, and the squirrel stirs up the ants, and the ants crawl over the squirrel–and, according to the squirrel PhD, the ants eat the parasites that live in the squirrel’s fur. The ants also bite the squirrel, which accounts for all the flipping. Apparently other squirrels will use the same branch–because, you know, everybody needs an ant bath.
(Originally posted June 18, 2014)