Squirrels are playful little creatures. But if you see them rolling around in your backyard, they're likely not having a good time. Rolling around as a part of play is not unheard of among squirrels, but another reason for them to be acting nutty is more likely: A parasite might be to blame.
Squirrels live just about anywhere in the United States, and all year long. Red squirrels are found mostly in coniferous forests, but common gray squirrels are seen in cities and backyards. They love trees. All squirrels move fast and can jump long distances, and they rely on their sharp claws to help them stick sometimes treacherous landings. But those seen rolling around on the ground are probably doing so for a reason: They itch.
Late Summer Behavior
During the end of the summer you may have seen squirrels rolling on the ground, or even biting themselves, or just acting plain crazy. Sometimes people worry these types of behavior may indicate a rabid state -- and such behavior could be indicative of a sick rodent. But more than likely, such nutty-acting squirrels have skin irritations making them behave so squirrelly. The irritation is usually due to parasitic botfly larvae.
Adult female botflies lay their eggs in squirrel dens, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. After the eggs hatch, they enter the squirrel's mouth, nose or other orifice and migrate just under the skin, where they cut tiny holes so they can breathe and develop. Lumps -- actually subcutaneous warbles -- a half-inch to an inch in diameter develop on the squirrels, causing the squirrels to roll around trying to scratch the itch.
What to Do
While neither the larvae nor the infected squirrels are of threat to humans and pets, you should never bother squirrels who may exhibit strange behavior like rolling around. In fact, never touch any squirrel, which could bite or could have some other serious illness. Larvae-infected squirrels should return to normal behavior once the larvae hatch. The squirrels' skin usually heals after a time; however, some squirrels with heavy infestations could be affected seriously.
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Debra Levy has been writing for more than 30 years. She has had fiction and nonfiction published in various literary journals. Levy holds an M.A. in English from Indiana University and an M.F.A. in creative writing/fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars.