Humans are not the only species to diligently pay attention to their cleanliness. In the animal kingdom, a bath might look a little different from our daily shower. As strange as it may seem, many animals used dust to help them stay looking spiffy. Squirrels are well known for indulging in a glorious roll around in sand and dust. There are some interesting facts about this squirrel behavior.
Squirrels take dust baths to rid themselves of external parasites. The dust absorbs excess oils on their coats and keeps their coat healthy. They may also use dust bathing as a way to thermoregulate. When squirrels roll in the sand, they secrete pheromones which communicate the animal’s presence.
Many animals, from horses to squirrels, enjoy a relaxing roll in the sand. They can spend quite a considerable time on this activity. To know this is a pleasurable pursuit, you only have to watch a squirrel take a dust bath. Luckily, squirrel mothers do not need to corral their kids into bathing – they do it happily from an early age.
The Squirrels Are Rolling In The Sand – What Are They Doing?
Many people are fortunate enough to have squirrels that visit their yards. They can spend time watching the squirrels while enjoying their morning coffee.
One behavior that they will quickly observe is that squirrels throw themselves ecstatically into a patch of sand. Then, the squirrels roll around on their backs, squirming and wriggling, before flipping onto their stomachs to perform the same maneuvers.
Here’s a video of a squirrel taking a dust bath, which isn’t something you see very often.
The squirrels behaving like this are not sick or having a fit. Instead, they are taking a dust bath. This is a common phenomenon in the animal kingdom, and all rodents seem particularly fond of it.
Does A Dust Bath Clean A Squirrel?
Dust baths are a good way for animals to stay clean. Unfortunately, water for bathing is not always available. In addition, many animals are cautious of entering the water when it is not their natural habitat. Dust provides a suitable alternative.
When the squirrels roll in the dust, they scratch off external parasites such as ticks and fleas. The powdery consistency of sand can make it unpleasant for fleas to remain on the squirrel and jump off. This is much the same principle as applying flea powder to your dog.
The roughness of the ground can help scrape off burrs and grass seeds, but the squirrel may also pick these off with its teeth or paws.
Why Do Squirrels Take Dust Baths?
Squirrels secrete oils from their skin, just like most mammals. The oil keeps the skin moist and provides some waterproofing for the coat. However, over time, the skin oils can build up and make a sticky mess, defeating the point of keeping the skin healthy.
Dust or sand absorbs the excess oils, allowing them to be shaken off the coat as the squirrel bathes. Removing old oil and loose hair allows newly secreted oils to be used in moisturizing the skin and coat.
When a squirrel pushes itself along the dirt, it loosens old hairs in its coat.
The old hair falls out, providing space for new hair growth. This is especially important in seasons when the winter coat is shed for a lighter summer coat. Squirrels may also lose some hair as the thicker winter coat grows in at the end of summer.
Dust Bathing Helps Squirrels Thermoregulate
Squirrels may use dust bathing to thermoregulate – in other words, control their temperature. Different materials retain or lose heat at different rates.
This is known as the specific heat capacity of materials. Although squirrels do not know much about physics, they instinctively use these properties to their advantage.
If the squirrel is hot, a bath in the cool, damp sand and plant debris under a tree will help reduce its body temperature. On the other hand, sand is good at retaining heat, so a wallow in hot sand can increase the temperature if the squirrel is cold.
When the squirrel fluffs its coat with dust, it allows the coat hairs to easily stand upright, trapping air in the coat and keeping the squirrel warm. In addition, when excess oils are removed, the coat lies flat along the skin and assists in cooling the squirrel.
Squirrels Use Dust Bathing To Communicate
Animals use pheromones as a means of communication. Apocrine glands in the skin secrete small quantities of fluid that contain pheromones. In squirrels, there is a large concentration of apocrine glands around the face and muzzle.
When squirrels dust bathes, they wipe pheromones all over the area, conveying critical information. The scent provides information about the squirrel’s social status, sex, and reproductive availability. It may also establish territories in male squirrels.
Scent communication has been poorly studied in squirrels. However, researchers think pheromone communication is highly sophisticated in the complex squirrel society.
What Dust Do Squirrels Prefer?
It would seem that squirrels use various mediums for dust bathing. Dry wood chips and plant material found under trees or bushes are used frequently.
This medium may be more helpful in cooling down and rubbing off burrs or ticks. It also has the safety feature of being close to trees for a quick escape. Fine sand or even ash is popular and may be best for removing fleas and excess oil.
Just like a squirrel’s diet has adapated to their surroundings, they would likely take a dust bath in the type of sand they have available.
What Sand Can I Use For A Pet Squirrel?
If you have a pet squirrel, you must provide it with sand for dust bathing. There are several alternatives you can use. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of bathing options.
Chinchilla bathing sand is available at many pet retailers. This is usually compromised of volcanic sand and is suitable for squirrels.
Make sure you do not use silica sand as this can cause respiratory issues in squirrels. According to this forum, the sand is dangerous to small animals that may ingest it, as it can cause gastrointestinal issues.
Some people use baby powder, but this is not a good idea as it can cause respiratory problems if inhaled. Avoiding any sand that has been treated with chemicals or pesticides is also essential.
A cheaper alternative is children’s sand pit sand sold at toy stores and online retailers.
Overall, the best thing you can do is provide your squirrel with various types of sand and let them choose what they like best.
Squirrels take dust baths to keep their coats and skin in good condition. They also use dust baths to maintain the correct body temperatures and communicate social information.