Del Norte’s majestic elk herds and migrating gray whales may gain the most notoriety, but one of the most common critters visitors encounter at places like Beachfront Park is the California ground squirrel.

The bushy-tailed rodent begging for potato chips is found throughout California and Oregon. Its range also extends to Washington and Nevada.

Also known as Beechey’s marmot, after 19th-century British explorer Frederick William Beechey, California ground squirrels have developed unique techniques to avoid predation by rattlesnakes. According to a 2007 University of California, Davis study, ground squirrels will chew up rattlesnake skins and smear it on their fur to mask their scent from predators. They have also been seen applying snake scent by picking up pieces of shed snakeskin, chewing it and then licking their fur.

Another article published October 2014 in the Oxford journal Behavioral Ecology states that California ground squirrels will wave their tails to deter a snake attack. The study showed that snakes attacked the tail-flagging squirrels from a shorter distance and most of those tail-waving squirrels dodged the attack.

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