Squirrels are known for their big bushy tails, and it’s easy to see why because they are hard to miss. This has us asking, are they purely ornamental or do they have a purpose?
And if they were to lose it, would a squirrel’s tail grow back?
No, a squirrel’s tail will not grow back, and unfortunately, this can be fatal for a squirrel. They use their tails to get around, to protect themselves from bad weather, to regulate their body temperatures, and to protect themselves from falls.
None of that can happen if a squirrel loses its tail.
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Why Do Squirrels Need Tails
A squirrel’s tail is one of the most unique and distinguishing features of a squirrel. With a variety of different types, sizes, and colors, this appendage provides squirrels with a tool to help them survive in the world.
Squirrels use their tail to regulate their temperature. On hot summer days, a squirrel will use their tail as a shade to keep them cooler. On cold days they will wrap their tail around them like a blanket.
Squirrels can even control the blood flow to the tail to control their body heat, similar to how we sweat.
When a squirrel is warm, it will send more blood to the tail to the heat dissipates but will reduce blood flow to the tail in order to keep their bodies warm.
Squirrels also use their tails for balance. Not only is this useful as they are tree-top trekking, but believe it or not, they use it when they fall.
The squirrel’s tail is very sensitive, and they are able to sense the slightest of movements. This allows them to know exactly what position their body is in, even when it’s mid-fall.
When a squirrel falls, they flatten their body and use their tail as a parachute to slow them down as much as possible before hitting the ground.
Just before they land, they tuck their legs back underneath them and land like a cat.
Squirrels also use their tails for communication with each other. To show dominance squirrels will wag their tails from side to side, much like how dogs will show dominance by lifting their leg.
In squirrels that live in a group, squirrels will let others know if they are welcoming or warning them with a quick flick of the squirrel’s tail in a specific direction.
The more times a squirrel flicks its tail, the more frustrated it is.
Using a Tail as a Parachute
It was briefly mentioned that a squirrel will use its tail as a parachute to survive big falls, but let’s touch on that a little more so you can really see the importance of their tails.
This video is fun and educational.
It goes into detail about how squirrels can survive falls, and how they are able to move their bodies in mid-air.
The video explains it while catapulting squirrels across an obstacle course, and I can’t compete with that level of creativity.
Essentially, squirrels are very small creatures, they are very light, and they have extra skin under their arms and legs. When a squirrel jumps, the bushy tail, and their bodies act as a parachute, slowing down the rate they fall at.
Now that they are falling slower than the average creature, they can move their body, and line themselves up so they land on their feet.
Like a cat, they have a lot more surface area in contact with the ground when they land in proportion to their weight which is why they don’t hurt themselves when they land.
Do squirrels’ tails grow back if they fall off?
Squirrels do not have the ability to regrow their tails. That superpower is usually reserved for reptiles, bugs, and fish, and a squirrel doesn’t fall into any of those categories.
Luckily for squirrels, or maybe unluckily, the skin and fur on a squirrel’s tail is designed to come off the tail easily, instead of everything including the bone and cartilage.
The skin and fur can grow back if the tail is cleaned and treated, but bone and cartilage will not grow back.
Can a Squirrel Survive Without a Tail
A squirrel can survive without a tail, but it won’t be the same squirrel.
Squirrels are rodents (alongside rats and mice) that live mostly in trees. They get around by jumping from branch to branch or scampering up and down tree trunks.
Squirrels use their tails for warmth on cold days, balance when climbing trees, communication with other squirrels to warn them of danger or show dominance.
If a squirrel’s tail is commonly used for these purposes between foraging sessions leaves it vulnerable to predators who may perceive it as an easy meal or injury due to falling during an attempted escape.
It is possible the squirrel will survive if it’s successful in escaping predation, but without its characteristic bushy tail, it will be less agile and may not be able to climb trees for safety or scurry away from predators.
Without its tail squirrels can survive, but they won’t be the same squirrel; they won’t have the same agility or ability to flee from danger.
What Would Cause a Squirrels’ Tail To Fall Off?
A squirrel losing its tail is pretty uncommon, but there are a few easy ways for a squirrel’s tail to fall off.
Injury or Trauma
Injury or trauma is one of the most common reasons squirrels lose their tails as it can come about as a result of squirrels getting hit by cars, catching them in traps, and getting attacked by dogs and cats.
Diseases can cause squirrels to lose their tails as well. The squirrel may have an illness that affects the blood flow to its tail, causing the tail to separate from the squirrel’s body.
Squirrel pox and squirrel distemper are two diseases that can cause a squirrel’s tail to fall off.
Poor nutrition may also lead to squirrels losing their tails. If they are malnourished, their tail bones may become softer and their tail will fall off entirely.
If a squirrel loses its tail this way, it probably had a long-term illness or injury that hasn’t been treated, so its tail is falling off due to poor nutrition after the squirrel has recovered from whatever it was suffering from.
Another reason squirrels lose their tails is fear of predators (such as cats). A squirrel will run away and then its tail gets caught in a branch, ripping the squirrel’s tail right off.
Developmental issues occur when squirrels are still in the womb of their mother. Sometimes their tails just won’t develop properly and then fall off during birth or shortly after.
Although squirrels with developmental issues do grow, their tails will never be as long as those of squirrels who do not have developmental issues.
What To Do If You Find a Squirrel Without a Tail
If you find a squirrel without a tail, it is called a squirrel with a partial or complete amputation. Without the squirrel’s tail, it cannot survive in the wild since squirrels need their tails to regulate their body temperatures and to help them flee from predators.
It is advised that if a squirrel without a tail is still alive, it should be taken to an animal shelter with a vet who can help with an injury.
The vet will close and sterilize any wounds so the squirrel can recover without infections.
Then the squirrel will need to be kept at a facility, and won’t be able to be released into the wild. At a facility or squirrel sanctuary, the squirrel will live out its most normal life without any fear of being in danger.
There will still be plenty of space to climb trees and other obstacles, eat as much as they want, and play with other squirrels.
So, there you have it. A squirrel’s tail is pretty important and losing it can be quite dangerous.
If you ever see a squirrel in your backyard or local park without its tail, reach out to your nearest animal shelter.
They will be more than happy to give the squirrel the care that they need and bring it to a sanctuary where it can live out the rest of its life.