Why Are There So Many Squirrels Crossing Our Roads Here in Kentucky?
The commercial is my life at the moment. I live on the west side of Owensboro and every trip to and from my house is just like that Geico Car Insurance commercial. There are squirrels EVERYWHERE and I have daily near-death experiences because of them. Or, maybe they have daily near-death experiences because of me. I'm not completely sure. But I am tired of playing the squirrel version of Whack-a-Mole.
Here are the most harrowing roads that I travel in the city limits. In fact, if you want to find yourself swerving like that car in the commercial, take a short drive on this route and hope your airbags are working. Drive on Citation to Westview, then cross Lewis Lane to Booth Avenue. You'll think you've driven into some random vermin-inspired version of the Atari game Frogger. Only, the frogs have been replaced with kamikaze squirrels that look like this!
Just this past Sunday morning, I was driving to visit my mom. I had to swerve once to keep Fred the Fusion from flattening one rodent with a death wish. Moments later, I had to slam on my breaks to keep from plowing over one head on. I hit my breaks so hard that my laptop and murse flew into the floor board of my car and so did my bag of creme horns from Koehler's Bakery. There was so much powdered sugar in my floorboard, it looked like my car was a contestant on The Great British Bake Off or part of the set of the movie Cocaine Bear.
So, why are there so many squirrels trying to pull a chicken and cross the road? I found a story on ClickOnDetroit.com that claims an estimated 41 million squirrels are killed by drivers each year. That's a lot of freaking squirrels. My daily trip down Squirrel Death Row makes me believe those numbers may not be an exaggeration.
In fact, I remember a conversation with my great uncle EJ at my great aunt Dot's funeral. On his way to her memorial, EJ ran over a squirrel. As a matter of fact, he was almost late to the service because of it. When he walked in and sat down, I asked him why he was late. He told me hit a squirrel, bu that he had stopped to pick it up so he and his wife Shirley could cook it for dinner. Trust me. I only wish I was joking.
So, here's a really interesting theory presented by an Illinois State University biology professor (from that ClickOnDetroit.com article). Professor Rebecca Gougis says squirrels think vehicles are predators and they react to them the same way they react to hawks and foxes and owls. They freeze, stop, start and change direction constantly in order to trick and evade the predator.
Ah, so that's why Fred the Fusion was swerving like I was a driving a really drunk Miss Daisy! That defense tactic may work with a hawk, but it doesn't necessarily work with a Trailblazer or a Ford Fusion.
There's a great story on Animal Dome that explains even further:
Squirrels will stop and freeze instinctively when a predator approaches them or if there are any predators nearby. Predators have a hard time searching for their prey if their prey is still and not moving. If the predator sees the squirrel then the squirrel will quickly run away at the last minute in a different direction. Since predators are not as agile as squirrels, they can’t change directions quickly as the squirrels do. This gives the squirrel time to run away.
Of course, the big, four-tired curve ball in the squirrel's survival manual is this. Our vehicles move at a much faster rate of speed than any known predator.
This kind of survival tactic works well with predators but not in cars. By the time a squirrel thinks to run away the car would have caught up to it and killed it. This kind of thing happened because squirrels have no idea what cars are since they have not adapted yet to living with humans.