Infrared Squirrel Tails

One of the unseen problems that exists in the natural world is the balance between predators and prey. Many people do not understand that if there were no predators, plant eating animals would eventually be so numerous that they would run out of food and die of starvation--a death far more terrible than the quick death that predators inflict upon them. If predators are too efficient they can wipe out the plant eaters that are their prey, and then they would die of starvation themselves.

One of the design features which helps to balance this prey/predator ratio is the presence of highly designed systems in the prey which prevent over eating by the predators. Ground squirrels offer a great example of this, and in California new studies have shown a highly designed system that prevents their primary enemy, the rattlesnake, from killing them all off. The rattlesnake has a highly designed system of its own that helps it find adequate prey. Rattlesnakes have a sensor in their cheeks which picks up infrared radiation or heat radiation given off by warmblooded animals. On a totally dark night or in a dark cave a rattlesnake can see a mouse or other warmblooded prey because it can see the heat radiation coming from the animal. Man has copied this system to make infrared scopes which allow night vision, used so extensively by the United States military.

The problem is that an animal like a ground squirrel could be wiped out by rattlesnakes if it did not have some method of combating the infrared abilities the snake has. Scientists studying this relationship have seen that when a rattlesnake is around ground squirrels, the squirrels move their tails up and down in a display that is called flagging. The squirrels will kick sand at the snake and nip at the snake's tail, but all the while they are doing this the tail is moving in a wild erratic motion. Studies have shown that when the squirrel starts the flagging behavior, the tail heats up giving off larger and larger amounts of infrared radiation. This flooding of the rattlesnake's infrared sensor is so total that the snake will usually give up and crawl away.

What is absolutely amazing is that if a gopher snake that does not have the infrared sensing ability approaches the squirrel, the squirrel's tail does not heat up. Only when the squirrel is endangered by snakes with infrared ability does the tail heat up and give off the flood of infrared signals. Trying to explain how the squirrels can recognize the type of snake approaching them, and heat up or not heat up in response, is an incredible challenge if you try to maintain that it came about by mechanical chance processes. We would suggest that there is design in the survival equipment of all living things, and this is a powerful example of the wisdom and design that God has built into all parts of the natural world.

--Reference: Science News, June 26, 2004, page 403.

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