Why Do Squirrel Bark?
Why do squirrels bark? Well, this is an age-old question that has been bothering people for generations. The reasons for squirrel vocalizations are as varied as their behaviors. Some of these include signaling danger to other squirrels, marking territory, and communicating with predators. Let’s look at these different purposes of squirrel barking to better understand why squirrels do what they do. And do squirrels really use this behavior for these purposes?
Signals of danger to other squirrels
Squirrels make a variety of sounds to communicate danger. The kuk serves as a generic alarm signal. It tells other squirrels that something is upsetting the colony. Quaas are more common than kuks, but the quaa signal is still used to communicate danger. In addition, some species make a chirp-meow sound, which is much quieter than a ‘Kuk’. It is also used to conceal its location.
The kuk sound is made by the same nerve cells as the quaa sound. Often, it is accompanied by a tail flick. Those warning calls may be a warning to other squirrels or predators, and can be used to warn other squirrels. Squirrels also make a squeaky toy-like sound, known as a quaa.
Besides barking, squirrels also make other kinds of sounds. A muffled call is made by young squirrels asking their mothers for food. In addition, a male squirrel chases his intended sweetheart up a tree to tell her that he’s not dangerous. Several species of squirrels use different tail movements to identify different types of danger. When a squirrel makes these sounds, he is communicating with other members of the same species.
Marking territory with vocalizations
Squirrels mark territory by using vocalizations to signal their presence. These vocalizations are often directed at other squirrels, both conspecific and heterospecific. North American red squirrels exhibit two types of agonistic calls. Juvenile squirrels often emit aggressive calls, which result in dispersal from the territory. Adult squirrels reject boisterous juveniles and fight them with their vocalizations.
In addition to vocalizing, squirrels often adopt submissive postures. Subordinate squirrels produce chirping sounds when they approach a dominant squirrel. They also roll onto their sides and take a prostrate posture. European and North American red squirrels give specific call-types when they approach another squirrel. Thirteen-lined ground squirrels give different call-types in response to the presence of a dominant male. These calls may be involuntary responses to pain, or they may have evolved as a way to recruit conspecifics.
Squirrels’ vocalizations develop and evolve throughout their lives. They are vital for survival and reproduction. They exhibit a variety of biological functions, ranging from predator defense to territorial defense, from mate solicitation to social cohesion. Although some aspects of vocal communication are inherently hardwired, some aspects of their behavior are learned and may differ among different species. If the behavior is innate in a particular species, it may be possible that hybrids will develop calls that are similar to their parents.
Communication with predators
Squirrels have developed a variety of communication methods, including vocal and tail alarms. These sounds allow squirrels to warn of potential predators. In fact, their quaa sounds are similar to the screeching of a cat. Their moans sound like a chirp followed by a meow, and they are sometimes used to hide from predators. They also have a third call, known as a muk-muk, which resembles a stifled sneeze.
Despite the variety of calls produced by squirrels, the vocal repertoires of most species are poorly described, leaving large gaps in our knowledge about the evolution of the species. Interestingly, many species of flying squirrels have large vocal repertoires, containing as many as 27 call types. However, most species of flying squirrels are nocturnal, making it difficult to study their vocal repertoires and vocal behaviors during the day.
Squirrels also make warning calls when predators approach. These warning calls sound like a series of barks, but sometimes they contain a buzzing noise that comes from their nostrils. This type of warning call is a low-pitched, nearly inaudible warning to other squirrels that it is aware of danger. Unlike human predators, these warning calls are used by both male and female squirrels.
Jessica Watson is a PHD holder from the University of Washington. She studied behavior and interaction between squirrels and has presented her research in several wildlife conferences including TWS Annual Conference in Winnipeg.