Emergency Research Day: What The Hell Are Those Squirrels Doing?!

Regular readers of dy know that Research Day falls on the 15th of each month. But this one simply couldn’t wait.

This very curious photograph was recently brought to my attention (warning: possibly not safe for work, especially if your boss is a furry or a golden retriever), which appears to show underage squirrels engaged in oral sex. (That pretty much ensures that my referral logs will be filled with “http://www.google.com/search?q=underage+squirrels+engaged+in+oral+sex” for the foreseeable future…) Needless to say, encountering this scant months after seeing Janet Jackson’s nipple left me wondering what kind of cesspool of depravity the world has become.

The picture was posted on a discussion site I frequent. No one seemed to know what it was, beyond a great inspiration for jokes about “nuts”. The only speculation came from a poster who said that male squirrels will bite one another in the testicles as a show of dominance, but offered neither citation nor corroborations.

Enter Research Day.

Searching Google I could find no reliable evidence supporting the “testicle biting” hypothesis, except for a mention of the practice on deadsquirrel.com, the “Official homepage of the Squirrel Defamation League” (not making this up). Seeking a slightly less biased opinion, I forwarded the photo to Andrew B Carey, Ph.D of the Pacific Northwest Research Station. I asked if the rumors of wanton genital mastication were true, or, if not, if he could explain what in the hell was going on in this photo.

To my amazement, Dr. Carey did not forward my email to the authorities, despite the presence of the words “squirrels” and “oral sex” in a single sentence. Instead, he sent me back a very thorough reply. Here it is:

Rural lore in the Appalachian states has it that red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) castrate their competitors, the larger eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis); no reliable observations of that have been documented and one scientist proffered the explanation that wounds caused by warble fly larvae in the inguinal region may have prompted speculation about castration. I don't know of any other reports of attempted castration.

What it looks like to me in the picture is that there are some young squirrels in captivity and one is exhibiting an innate suckling behavior and just happened to find another's genitals.

Some further light can be shed on this by realizing that many mammals have scent glands in the vicinity of the genitals and that sniffing and licking of these areas is common social behavior that may or may not be sexual in nature, depending on the circumstance. But such behavior is typically quite active, with both individuals alert and showing physiological arousal or tension, while the squirrels in this picture seem asleep.

Ah yes, the old “it’s innate suckling behavior” defense. I’m sure we’ve all used that one from time to time.

Well, I’m going to believe it, because the whole “biting testicles to assert dominance” thing gives me THE SHIVERS. Thank goodness we human males have the good sense to assert dominance through drunken fistfights at keggers and the purchase of Humvees.

Research Day Bonus!: “Inguinal” means “ Of, relating to, or located in the groin.” Twenty points if you can work that into a casual conversation today.

A big thanks to Dr. Carey for deigning to answer my panicky and admittedly bizarre query.

Update: Mystery solved! Junior sleuth Adam Forbes managed to trace the photo back it’s source at the Squirrel Rescue webpage. He even contacted the staff of the organization and got the straight dope from one Mary Cummins:

That is a photo of two orphaned baby squirrels exhibiting suckling behavior. Orphaned baby squirrels frequently will suckle on the nose, ears, elbows, thumb nub, genitals, stomach of other babies or even themselves. They will also suckle on stuffed animals, a towel, just about anything. I tried to make a pacifier for them so they wouldn't suckle each other but nothing's like the real thing I suppose. They can sometimes suckle so much that they give each other hickeys and get themselves very raw.

Attached is a pic of some diapers that another rehabber made in order to stop suckling.

Great work, Adam!

Ah, Spring

This weekend I’ll be working on my newest project: cheep-dates.com, an easy-to-use, online dating service for birds. I’m setting it up for my feathered friends in the backyard so that they can find mates in a quick, convenient manner, one that doesn’t involving CHIRPING RIGHT OUTSIDE MY WINDOW AT FIVE FUCKING THIRTY IN THE MORNING.

Bad Review Revue

Scooby-Doo 2: “The 6-year-old I went with had the villain pegged in the first 15 minutes. Needless to say, she completely ruined the movie for me. Meddling kid.” — Wesley Morris, BOSTON GLOBE

Cheaper By The Dozen: “Nothing happens. At all. Ever. Remember when Steve Martin was funny? Apparently, neither does he.” — Robert Wilonsk, DAILY OBSERVER

Prince & Me: “A comedy that plays like a tragedy. No stricken bodies, though, unless you count the ones in the audience slumped back in their seats — perchance they slept.” — Rick Groen, THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Walking Tall: “Stars The Rock, but The Wood might be a better description of his performance.” — Peter Rainer, NEW YORK MAGAZINE

Never Die Alone: “Gangsta crap.” — J. R. Jones, CHICAGO READER

Games: Ticket To Ride

I’m not the kind of guy who feels an overwhelming need to see a movie on its opening night, purchase an album the day its been released, or watch the sixth season of the Sopranos now rather than wait for the DVD. Even so, I went to my local game store and picked up a copy of Ticket To Ride the first day it became available. The advanced buzz on TtR said it was the best light strategy game to come down the pike in long time, and my first few playings seem to confirm this reputation.

The board shows a stylized map of the United States and Canada. Cities are scattered throughout the nations and a series of dashed lines connect the burgs into a web of routes. These routes are of one of eight colors and consist of 1-6 “dashes” (actually, small rectangular boxes). There is also a deck containing cards of nine suits: the eight route colors found on the board, and a ninth “Wild” suit. Players start with four of these cards and a pile of small, plastic trains.

Players strive to establish railroad lines between cities. To do so, a player may use his turn to either draw cards or claim a route. In the latter case, the person plays a set of cards of the same color and in same quantity as the dashed lines in the route he wishes to claim. The route between St. Louis and Pittsburg, for example, consists of five green dashed line; to claim it, a player would have to discard a set of five green cards. When a player establishes a route he places his trains onto the dashes to denote ownership.

Players earn points for every route they establish, and can also score by completing “Tickets.” Tickets bear the names of two cities and a point value (e.g., “Dallas / New York: 11”) . At the end of the game, a player receives the points shown on a Ticket if he managed to establish a continuous string of routes between the two cities; if he was unable to make the connection, he loses the Ticket’s points. Most cities are connected to their neighbors by a single route a piece, although a few sets of cities are joined by double routes. This means that once a player has claimed the St. Louis to Pittsburg line, it becomes unavailable to everyone else. That’s bad news for the guy holding the “Dallas to New York” Ticket, as he will need to find another way to traverse that stretch of the Midwest.

So nabbing routes first is crucial. But you can either draw cards or claim a route on your turn — but not both — deciding to claim a route at the expense of increasing your hand is never easy. This is made all the more agonizing by the fact that you draw from a face-up pool of five cards, so on the same turn you might want to assume ownership of a particular route, a Blue card that you’re eager to acquire might be sitting there taunting you. You may also forego both the drawing of cards and the establishments of routes and use your turn to take more Tickets; the points on Tickets are vital to winning the game, but skipping an entire turn to gain more is never easy.

Ticket To Ride is easily the best family game I’ve played all year, the best in years, to be honest. The theme is fun, the play is exciting, and the rules can be explained in five minutes or less. At $35 it won’t be the cheapest game available on your local game store’s shelves, but the beautiful components justify the price. Furthermore, Ticket‘s accessibility and short playing time (about 45 minutes) ensure that it will hit the table more than enough times to get your money’s worth. All this makes for a game I heartily recommend, and that will be on the top of my Good Gifts Games list for 2004.


I got impatient waiting for the bus yesterday, so I started to stroll to the espresso stand a block away. I wasn’t really in the mood for coffee, but that wasn’t the point — and I knew I wouldn’t get any anyhow.

Sure enough, the bus arrived just when I was far enough away from the stop that I had to sprint to catch it.

There really ought to be a word for this:

Misfortunation: Intentionally transforming a desirable event into an undesirable event in the hopes that your bad luck will cause it to occur.

Quality Check

At the grocery store today I had a bagboy named “Perfecto.” And yeah, okay: he was pretty good. He put the heaviest stuff at the bottom of the bags and everything. But I still felt like there was some room for improvement.

I’d give him an 8, but I suppose the name “Ocho” doesn’t have the same ring.

En Passant

President Bush, in regard to the June 30th deadline for the transfer of Iraqi sovereignty, says the date remains firm. When asked if the escalating violence might necessitate a push-back, he says:

We will pass sovereignty on June 30th. We will stay the course in Iraq. We're not going to be intimidated by thugs or assassins. We're not going to cut and run from the people who long from freedom.

Yes, nothing says “we’re not going to cut and run” like a steadfast commitment to cut and run, on a date determined solely by the advent of election season. I’ll say one thing for Bush: it’s not everyone who could gussy up “we’re getting the hell out of Dodge!” with macho bluster.

Speaking of the Bush administration, the LA Times says that Condoleezza Rice’s testimony before the 9/11 commission later this week will largely determine whether or not she gets to keep her job. If she gets the boot she probably won’t be alone: both Powell and Rumsfeld are rumored to be on their way out too. Not to mention the bevy of other administration officials who have quit or “resigned” (Richard Clarke, Paul O’Neil, Eric Schaeffer, etc.) during Bush’s tenure. No wonder the unemployment rate is so high.

Apparently Rice needs to go because people associate her with the administration’s failure to prevent 9/11, just as Rumsfeld needs to go because people associate him with the post-invasion Iraq debacle and Powell needs to go because people associate him with intelligence and moderation. It’s like watching a snake shed it’s skin as these guys try to slither into a second term.

Honestly, it seems like scapegoatery and damage control are the only activities the executive branch engages in these days, aside from campaign stops and fund-raising. And it’s unnerving to think how much in federal funds has been spent to redirect blame and inoculate Bush from culpability. They ought to just put a checkbox on the 2004 Tax form that says “Would you like $3 to go toward presidential ass-coverage?”

Oh well, the whole spectacle is kind of entertaining in a novice-chess-player sacrifices-pawn-after-pawn- in-the-hopes-of-drawing-a-stalemate kind of way. Hell, they should just stick a camera in the White House and turn the whole thing into a reality show, a cross between “The Apprentice” and “The West Wing.” Every week some new scandal could erupt (this element of the plan is evidentially already in place) and then the administration could spend the hour casting about for a fall guy to get hauled into the oval office and receive his walking papers. (“Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman, it turns out that we lied about the cost of our Medicare proposal. You’re fired.”)

I’d totally watch that. And just imagine the rating for the January 20, 2005 series finale, when Kerry comes in to do the final two dismissals.

When You Rage Against The Machine, You Rage Against Me

There are perks to fatherhood I never dreamed of.

Over the weekend, for example, I was walking through Pinoneer Square with The Squirrelly in a Baby Bjorn when I saw some youths on the upcoming corner handing out fliers about an upcoming protest of some sort. This is not an uncommon sight in Seattle, which has reinvented itself as Protest City since the whole WTO debacle of ’99. George Bush, free trade, carnivory, illegality of marijuana, Clay Risen not winning American Idol, compulsory pants-wearing — you name it, someone’s got a protest scheduled for it next weekend in Seattle.

(Sometimes you don’t even know what the people are protesting. I was on the bus last week and we passed by a municipal building were half a dozen people sat listlessly on the sidewalk while a women with a bullhorn shouted “What do we want?! {pause} When do when want it?! {pause}” The other participants were too engrossed in their own conversations to respond, so, alas, I was never able to ascertain what it was that they wanted, nor in what approximate time frame they desired it to occur.)

Anyway, there I was, walking toward the corner, and this kid was thrusting his protest fliers at everyone who passed. Most people were taking them out of habit, because people in Seattle are too polite not to take a flier from some kid protesting daylight savings time or whatever. And I, sadly, having lived in Seattle all my life, am one of these people who cannot not take fliers; worse, once saddled with a flier I cannot bring myself to throw it away, what with paper being a recyclable and all, so I wind up carry it around all day and eventually taking it home and leaving it on the dining room table where The Queen will later find it and wonder if I’m really going to attend a rally protesting “500 Years Of Polenta.”

I tried to dodge around the youth, but he saw me and extended his arm toward me, flier in hand. Instinct kicked in and I started to reach for it. But then he saw the baby strapped to my torso and turned to some other passerby, handing him the flier instead.

It took me a moment to realize what had happened, but, when I did, I was jubilant. I was all, like, “that’s right, don’t even hand me a flier, punk: I reproduced and am part of the corporate, conforming, consumerist culture now! Hell, this kid’s wearing a Baby Gap onesie right now: booyah!”

Seriously, I was totally all like that.

Update: Protesters in Westlake Park.

Dry County

I always enjoy dropping in on my Grammy, not only because it usually means I’ll get to watch two episode of Golden Girls back-to-back, but also because she’s guaranteed to say at least one delightfully daffy thing per visit.

The other day, for instance, we brought The Squirrelly up to Grammy’s. We also brought along a bottle of milk, knowing that we’d be there a spell as it’s well nigh impossible to carry a baby through a retirement community and not have each and every resident stop you to administer cheek-pinchings to the yungin’..

Indeed, halfway through our visit the kid started to cry in that “you’d better feed me quick or I’ll give you something to cry about” sort of way. While I reached into our bag to retrieve the bottle, The Queen turned to Grammy and asked, “would you like feed him?”

“You want me to nurse him?!” She exclaimed in alarm. “Why, I don’t think I’d be able!”