I for one welcome our new Squirrel Overlords

By Phil Plait | January 27, 2009 8:00 am

Squirrels. I can see the raw intelligence in their eyes when they torment my dog, Canis Minor, staying just out of reach. Or when they calculate trajectories and ballistics, jumping from tree to tree, going through trigonometric geometries in their heads, perhaps even solving n-dimensional manifolds almost literally on the fly.

My proof?

See that? See it? Today was colder than the time I took the Squirrel Wavelength photograph. That means lower energy, and the squirrels, with lower energy, can’t jump as far. The Squirrel Wavelength is shorter. But in quantum mechanics, lower energy means longer wavelengths.

One of them, Sciurus sapiens,
mentally disassembling the
Theory of Relativity.

The conclusion is obvious: squirrels have disproven quantum mechanics.

All our technology is based on QM: digital cameras, store scanners, even the machines that make M&Ms.

We’re toast.

What’s next? Gravity? String theory? Is there no limit to what these rodents can do?

Today, my fence. Tomorrow, the LHC.

Squirrel picture from Wikipedia, under the Creative Commons license.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Pretty pictures

Comments (84)

Links to this Post

  1. Simplify, simplify! | Fryeburg Academy Physics | January 27, 2009
  2. Squirrel Physics | Terahertz | January 27, 2009
  1. Watch it, Phil, someone’s gonna take one of these seriously and you’ll start a cult and lose the Presidency!

  2. Tomas

    Oh man, this just made my day … brilliant 😀

  3. Michelle

    oooooooooooooooooor it means there was two squirrels on the fence. How do you prove just ONE squirrel did that? 😛

  4. OK, grey and red squirrels are smart and cute, I’ll grant you that. We have both in abundance in Scotland and they’re generally a joy to share the country with. However, when I first visited my dad after he emigrated to Toronto he introduced me to black squirrels and good god are those things EVIL. Seriously, they’re the size of small dogs, they have no fear whatsoever and they probably – in fact make that definitely – eat babies for fun.

    Over christmas I swear my mum mentioned that they’d been seen in the UK somewhere. If that’s the case then it’s game over man, I’m going to take off and nuke the country from orbit…

  5. Tree rats.

    They damaged my fruit trees by wrecking all the fruit. They spread fireblight, killing the previously mentioned fruit trees (and a lot of other trees in my area). They eat the telephone cabling bundles on the poles, presumably for nest material. They ruin the garden by damaging the food plants and digging up the flowers. They destroy my bird feeders.

    I shoot them (usually with my bow using a 1.25″ blunt) at every opportunity, and encourage every natural predator (which, in my area, is primarily owls and hawks) to move in. I’ve met with considerable success, although it took a couple of years of regular squirrel-stapling to make a difference. As far as I can tell, the squirrels seem to recognize me (as opposed to my wife) and typically hit the high-road now when I’m outside. It could be my imagination, but it sure seems that way. There are also a lot less of them.

  6. Peptron

    I once met a gray squirrel that must have been the squirrel version of the village idiot. I was in a park feeding birds and squirrels, and a squirrel making its nest spotted me. It came all the way down with its mouth still full sticks and leaves, and he didn’t seem to comprehend that he could not put a peanut in his mouth while it was already full. He would try to put it in, it would fall, he’d take it back, etc a good 10-15 times before giving up.

  7. Your having a slow day, aren’t you BA?

  8. Lee

    The squirrels in my garden are getting a little too bold. My youngest daughter made the mistake of feeding one a peanut. The next day (and each day thereafter for a week) it returned and sat in the same spot as if waiting for more food. Then it got braver and started getting closer to the house. Now it runs straight up and puts its paws on the glass of the patio doors and stares in at us. Its starting to get a little disturbing, I can feel its gaze boring into the back of my head.

    There’s definitely a malevolent intelligence in that little furry head of his and its starting to freak me out.

  9. Michelle

    I feed squirrels! I’m proud of it! My neighbors hate me for it! HA-HAHAHAHAHAHA!


  10. Are squirrels the source of dark matter?

  11. I shoot [the squirrels] at every opportunity

    We have successfully framed the squirrels. The time of the Rabbit Conquest is nigh. Mwahaha!

  12. nancy

    I came here for the pic of the Fark squirrel…. but I really can’t leave disappointed, since this IS a family site…..

    My brother-in-law, the mighty hunter, went out one day to shoot squirrels near his home in Arizona. He came back empty handed. I told him I could catch a truckful of squirrels down at the beach in Carlsbad, with just a bag of Doritos for bait. They sneak up and sit right under your beach chair, waiting for you to drop something. He was not amused.

  13. Cheyenne


    You must be a pretty good shot to pick off a squirrel sized target!

    I agree the greys are tree rats. But the reds, particularly those across the pond from us Americans, are quite cute. Last I heard the greys are pushing the reds out over in the UK. Something about virus transmission on taking over their habitat.

    @Cannonball – We’ve got black squirrels here in Illinois. Not a lot of them, but some. And yes, they’re creepy!

  14. I tend to be neutral towards squirrels. As long as they leave me alone, I don’t bother them. I do get a little annoyed in the fall when they start to dig literal craters in my yard. I mean, how big a hold do you need to dig to bury a peanut? And then not fill in the hole?

    Even more annoying is the guy in my neighborhood who feeds them raw peanuts and feed corn…year round. Some summers I spend more time pulling peanut and corn plants out of my yard than I do mowing it. >:-(

  15. “We’ve got black squirrels here in Illinois. Not a lot of them, but some. And yes, they’re creepy!”

    You want creepy? Go to Olney, IL and check out the large albino squirrel population they have there. Snowy white and pink eyed tree rats. ::shudder::

  16. My cats would like to speak to you about String Theory.

    Specifically how strings relate to dangling bonds.

    My cats love those dangling strings.

  17. Not only that, but, THEY FLY!

  18. Hmmm. I think you need to get out of the house, cabin fever? :)

    Oh, and once I saw a squirrel eat a man. Not all at once though. That’d be nuts. It was like 6-8 bites.

  19. My non-scientist partner observes: how do you know there aren’t two squirrels? Or one squirrel going in different directions?

    How many squirrels would we need to set up a double-slit experiment?

  20. gopher65

    Cannonball Jones : Black Squirrels have indeed spread to the UK. In fact, it is believed that they will eventually completely wiped out the grey squirrels in the UK.

  21. madge

    @ Michelle
    I feed my squirrels too. I have a theory (the polar opposite to Phil’s) that if anyone ever sat down and explained gravity to the squirrels they would instantly lose their acrobatic skills. It is only ignorance that keeps them up there.
    I did see one squirrel hit our beech tree head on once. The look of surprise (“Who put that tree there?”) on his face was priceless.

  22. holastefan

    Squirrel wavelengths, solving n-dimensional manifolds… I’ll bet if you look closely at the pattern of their droppings, it probably shows their proof for Fermat’s last theorem.

    I love this blog!!

  23. bob

    I’m not too sure about the dog taunting bit. Around here, the squirrels think that if they’re 6ft up and on the opposite side of the tree to the dog, they’re safe. The dog seems to be aware of this and hardly even runs anymore. He just trots around there and plucks them off like little furry apples. He has to wear a muzzle now :-(

  24. Sarcastro

    My Norwegian Forest Cat collapses those squirrel-state-vectors like nobody’s business.

    They always end up in the eigenstate of ‘deader than a doornail’ which is lengthened by dragging its entrails to the front door.

  25. I would like to set up a Squirrel Ripple Tank Experiment. I cannot WAIT to see a squirrel standing wave!!!

  26. You must be a pretty good shot to pick off a squirrel sized target!

    So I am told. I have competed in archery on 3D targets in the “instinctive” category (no laser sights, counterbalances, mechanical releases and all that crap) and I have a gold medal to show for it… but it was a local competition, not the olympics :) I use a Browning compound bow set to about 55 lb.

    Once you learn the trick to making a squirrel stand still for a few seconds, hitting it from 5-15 yd is not as much of a challenge as you might think. Sneaking up to within that distance can be a challenge though.

  27. According to Wikipedia: “[The black squirrel] is particularly abundant in the northern part of the Eastern Grey Squirrel’s range. This is likely due to the significantly increased cold tolerance of black individual, where their dark coat helps them absorb more solar radiation. This gives them a slight advantage over greys, who have to eat more food to get the same heat advantage through metabolic activity.”

  28. Helioprogenus

    I’m surprised Phil didn’t apply a Fourier transform on the squirrel’s wavelength strides on both days. However, considering that they’re warm blooded, and that they have to get from point A to B faster on a colder day, it would make sense for the longer wavelength. Think about it, when it’s -10c outside, you’re not going to slowly walk from your car to your office. Yet, if it’s a pleasant 18 degrees, you may just take it slower.

  29. Chris

    My dog keeps our yard pretty squirrel-free. They’ve learned to not trespass when he’s outside.

    There’s a population of tan/blond squirrels on the grounds around my office, along with the black squirrels. Interesting mutation. They almost stand out more against the white snow than the black ones do. We were pretty overrun with both kinds a couple of years ago, then a family of foxes moved in. Can you sing “the circle of life….”? The foxes have moved on, and the squirrels are starting to get bold again.

    Of course, the various owls and hawks are also trying to do their bit to keep the squirrel population in check!

  30. Michelle

    Well I think Evolving is fighting a lost battle anyway, these are tough little critters… so might as well nourrish them and put them on my side, you know???

    But if Evolving wants to save the human race from our fluffy invadors, he needs to do some huntin’ in the woods close to where my sister used to live. I had to go through these woods to go to her house, and it was pretty big.

    The squirrels in there…. there were so many. they were HUMONGOUS, and gazing at you. Sometimes they would even get closer to you and give you the “What are you lookin’ at, CHUMP?” face. They were meaaaan squirrels.

    And no doubt they were probably ninjas too. I mean, they were all black. Ninja squirrels. You don’t wanna mess with that.

  31. RE: Evolving Squid shooting squirrels.

    *Picture scene: Mommy Squirrel serving dinner to her four offspring*

    The youngest looks at the empty chair at the end of the table and asks:

    “Where’s Papa?!”

  32. Bill H

    What the Bleep! down the squirrel hole!!!

  33. I saw a documentary once that was all about how some folks in the UK were trying to make a Squirrel-proof bird feeder. The criteria was that the feeder had to be capable of feeding birds, while also keeping squirrels out, and had to be non-lethal in dealing with the squirrels.

    There was one design that placed doors over the feeding hatches that would be triggered by a weighted ledge. The birds were not heavy enough to trigger it, so the doors remained open, and the birds could feed. The squirrel that came along was much heavier than the little birds, and triggered the doors, cutting him off from the food. No matter what he did, he couldn’t get the food, because standing on the ledge triggered the doors, and he wasn’t long enough to get to the hatches from the top of the feeder. So, the squirrel went away and it looked like they had a winner.

    Until the squirrel came back… with another squirrel. One squirrel sat on one ledge, the other sat on the other, and they balanced each other out. The door stayed open, and the squirrels could both feed.

    That’s problem solving intelligence, right there.

    Oh, I saw another documentary where a Squirrel in Central Park went up into a vending machine and came back out with a Baby Ruth. He even unwrapped the top of the candy before eating it.

  34. Says madge:

    “I did see one squirrel hit our beech tree head on once. The look of surprise (”Who put that tree there?”) on his face was priceless.”

    I was sitting on my back porch on lovely fall afternoon and watching two chase each other around the top of about a 50ft maple tree. They got a little bit too raucous and onf of them ran straight out the side of the tree and followed a nice parabolic arc to the ground. It got up, shook it’s head and scrambled back up the same tree.

    If it weren’t for all the flattened squirrels on the road in the fall, I’d swear the things were indestructible.

  35. Todd W.

    I saw a video once of a squirrel that ate fermented fruit.

  36. Daffy

    I grew up in the mountains..when I was a kid, my father actually trained a couple of the local squirrels to come in the house, and jump on his lap to get peanuts. My mother used to scream hysterically, “They’ll tear the house up!”

    My dad and the squirrels both ignored her completely.

  37. One of the neat little tricks in our yard… the bird feeders are relatively small and intended for songbirds, although the odd brave blue jay has managed to hang on and get some seed. The feeders are hung on thin wires away from easy jump points.

    The net effect is that the squirrels have to work a bit to get at the feeders. Most attempts involve a squirrel taking a flying leap, striking the feeder and knocking some seed out, while the seed and squirrel fall to the ground.

    Now, that’s pretty smart, I have to admit.

    But what’s smarter is when the local crows (a pair seem to live right near my house somewhere) then land and chase off the squirrel so they can eat the grounded seeds. Crows using squirrels as (expendable) stooges. Nature is great.

  38. IVAN3MAN

    Cannonball Jones:

    Over Christmas I swear my mum mentioned that they’d been seen in the UK somewhere. If that’s the case then it’s game over man, I’m going to take off and nuke the country from orbit…

    They are here already:

    The Pack of Mutant Black Squirrels That Are Giving Britain’s Grey Population a Taste of Their Own Medicine

  39. Charles Boyer

    Squid, in our old place inside the city, squirrels would systematically defeat each and every bird-feeder tactic my wife and I could concoct. At first it was vexing (no food for the birds) but eventually it became a humorous challenge not unlike Wile E. Coyote vs. Roadrunner. The squirrels were Road Runners and of course, they always won. But they did make me laugh…until one climbed down a vent into the house. That was an interesting night, to be sure.

    Anyway, we’ve moved out into the exurbs now, and we have “country squirrels” which are fewer and definitely more shy. Our yard is a lot more open, and it also back up to a wide open area. Every couple of months a new squirrel will move into a tree onto the edge of the yard, see the bird feeders and think he has life licked. What he doesn’t realize yet is that he will soon be meeting a Peregrine Falcon or a Redtail Hawk — and that both intend to invite him over for dinner. I’ve seen at least three get caught and taken away. Most impressive is when the Falcon does it, because they are the fastest animals on the Earth and watching one dive on its target at over 100 MPH is something incredible.

    No wonder country squirrels are shy.

  40. LouisS

    They are ingenious and do defy gravity http://twitpic.com/cvgp/full

  41. koios42

    I don’t know, Phil… Seems like the wavelength of your conclusion is a little short this time. Have you considered all the other variables? Time of day? Direction of travel? Density of snow? Or maybe the squirrels are particles after all, not waves…

  42. Charles Boyer

    Or maybe the squirrels are particles after all, not waves…

    Or both.

  43. IVAN3MAN

    @ Todd W.,

    I, too, saw that video of a squirrel that had, allegedly, eaten fermented fruit. Phil Plait had also featured it on one of his posts, a few months ago. However, I have been reliably informed that the poor little bastard was probably suffering from Baylisascaris — a parasitic nematode that can affect the brain.

  44. Todd W.


    Poor bugger. Parasites are not fun.

  45. Since I grew up with the black squirrels (which are, technically, grey squirrels. But black), I am used to them. The little red squirrels are adorably cute, but this winter one of those adorably cute red squirrels has stripped the bark off our lilac completely.
    By the way, the error in logic is that your thermometer reads AIR temperature, not SQUIRREL temperature. The air had lower energy, which thus doubled the frequency at which the squirrels can employ quantum tunneling.

  46. My dad has one of those weighted bird feeders and they do generally work pretty well. They used to sit on the lid and lean over to get the seed…until he heavily waxed the lid. Zip! Flying squirrel. Another tactic is for them to hang upside down from the perch and lean underneath the feeder to suck the seed out from the tiny water drain holes in the bottom of the feeder.

    Dad eventually solved the problem with a high-powered pellet gun…:(

  47. Lucas

    Alternately, there were multiple squirrels and your photo is of only the troughs of the waves, which gives us hope. It means the squirrels have not yet learned to create waves in phase. But when they do, it will be our doom…


  48. Bram

    Hmmm… sure looks like overlapping and canceling waveforms to me, or are you saying that the waveform of the grey squirrel is VARIABLE irregardless of temperature? Would that not require dark energy?

    No, I’m afraid I’ll stick with a mundane interpretation – overlapping multiple grey squirrel waveforms.

  49. Kevin

    They are just the advanced scouts in the Great Animal Conspiracy.

    Around here, we’ve got multi-colored squirrels. Mainly because we shoot them with paintballs. :)

  50. Sir Eccles

    I think your caption is wrong. The squirrel isn’t thinking about relativity, he’s trying to remember if he left the gas on!

  51. Savino

    I wanna some of what you take!

  52. DTdNav

    Black squirrels are not evil. They just have a more liberal code of ethics.

    Squirrels used to run our back yard until we got a cat that walks through walls, and a dog that pushes C when he sprints.

    You see junior, the key to battling those quantum critters is to get your own that recognize you as master (questionable with the cat).

  53. # Naked Bunny with a Whip Says:
    I shoot [the squirrels] at every opportunity
    We have successfully framed the squirrels. The time of the Rabbit Conquest is nigh. Mwahaha!

    Night of the Lepus IS a documentary!


  54. The squirrels here seem to enjoy busting into my squirrel proof bird feeder even though there is a far more accessible supply of food behind my barn (goats and llamas don’t eat or digest all their food). Seeing a hawk pick one off is really impressive so I leave them alone.

  55. tacitus

    As the neighbor of the owner of a dog that barks at squirrels it can’t reach, I implore BA to train his beloved dog not to bark at those pesky squirrels (if he hasn’t done so already).

    It never ceases to amaze me how deaf some dog owners are. Even if their dog only barks off and on for 30 minutes a day, it can drive their neighbors to distraction. If someone stood outside their window yelling through a bullhorn for a few minutes several times a day, they would be dragged off to the local jail in no time at all.

    Dogs? They seem to have immunity from such rules of common decency.

  56. Sili

    I don’t think http://www.candicomics.com/ will appeal to many around here, but it does have a Squirrel Conspiracy (and a telepathic and -kinetic ferret), which seems to be the focus of a coming story arc.

  57. wench

    huh. That black squirrel/grey squirrel/red squirrel article missed a big issue: if the black squirrels are more aggressive than the greys, and the greys are more aggressive than the reds, and the greys are a threat to the red’s territories, then the backs are going to be even more of a threat to the reds when they get done taking over the grey’s areas. If they were tactically minded, the greys and the reds would realize the need to get together and wipe out the blacks before they both loose out…

    …I plot everything like a military campaign. Sorry.

  58. Martin Moran

    @ Kevin: even though I myself have shot a squirrel with a paintball gun, for me the sight of a pink squirrel somehow goes against nature.

  59. Davidlpf

    Now I see squirrels playing risk.

  60. You have snow?

    I want snow.

    (Damn relatively warm Atlanta winters)

  61. AnthonyK

    I can’t believe I’m the first to post this, but here’s what squirrels do best:
    (If you can’t get it try “squirrel obstacle course”)

  62. Julia
  63. I sometimes go for walks in the park and see a lot of squirrels squirreling about, observing me. I sometimes wonder if these little guys don’t look at humans and think: “Laugh at us, but someday we will inherit the Earth” (kinda like the little mammals perhaps though about the dinosaurs so many millions of years ago!)

  64. Ian

    Clearly this can work for squirrels that increase in velocity as temperature decreases: http://terahertzatheist.ca/2009/01/27/squirrel-physics/ and the relativistic limit is prevented by biology (which becomes useful for a change) since before it gets too cold the squirrel will die.

  65. Hal's Dave

    Must obey the Squirrels!!!

  66. dhtroy

    I’ve … I’ve … I’ve seen that exact same wave pattern in some of the Mars Pictures that NASA has posted on-line… that can mean only one thing …

    Squirrels are from … MARS!!!!!


  67. If the posts that stick up above the top of the fence can be considered as nodes, and I think they can be, then it seems clear that the wavelength close to the nodes is longer than the wavelength farther from them.

    For some reason, this tells me that this is actually an interference pattern. Should we therefore look for the appearance of many squirrels of varying sizes at different points to confirm this? And can we determine if this is the result of just one squirrel interfering with itself?

  68. Nigel Depledge

    Charles Boyer said:

    Most impressive is when the Falcon does it, because they are the fastest animals on the Earth and watching one dive on its target at over 100 MPH is something incredible.

    I was going to dispute this, because Swifts are the fastest flyers. Some of them can reach about 105 mph in level flight.

    However, Swifts do not stoop like a Peregrine.
    According to this, a Peregrine was once recorded doing 242 mph in a dive.

  69. Nigel Depledge

    For those who might be interested, the English Lake District has a grey-squirrel exclusion zone. Any grey squirrels reported are trapped and dealt with appropriately (since the grey squirrel is not native to Britain, it is illegal to release them into the wild). This exclusion zone allows the native Red squirrels to flourish. Sometimes they even pose for photographs:


  70. Sion

    Here in the UK the native Red was ousted by the American Grey. Recently, however a new type of squirrel has been detected. A dark squirrel which doesn’t interact with normal squirrels, but we know it is there due to the movement of branches. It is theorised that they may make up 75% of the known universe.

    I might be wrong about the last bit.

  71. g

    I once encountered a squirrel sitting on a fence twirling a metal bracket in its paws. I don’t know what they’re up to, but they’re acquiring some engineering skills.

  72. Sion

    @g – I once worked at a drive-through safari park, where the rhesus monkeys kept stealing bits off of the cars that drove through their enclosure. We used to theorise that somewhere, out of sight, they were building themselves a car and, one day, when they had enough parts, were going to drive that baby to freedom!

  73. Peter

    If I can’t find a damned plum or tomato, ripe and un-nibbled by the damned tree rats this year, I’m going try to improve on an old recipe for squirel salad sandwiches. Damn, I might even figure out how to get Asian restaurants to serve it. Think about it, if they were a delecacy, problem solved! Hmmmm… city restaurants serve dove sized birds called ‘squab’… Now then, whats a guise for squirel on the menu?
    Anyways, I wish I didn’t move to where I can’t run my old shotgun out back! Now that I have 400 blossoms on my Stanley Plum tree, which 5 years straight have seriously yielded less than a dozen barely ripened survivors… my adolescent sqie=rel hunting antics nolonger seam so barbaric. AGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!

  74. Peter

    Twirling a metal bracket huh? It probably has been spying on our kids movies, perhaps even learning to master NumChucks.
    I’ve heard squirels imitating a chicken clucking, or was it laughing at me? Taunting me even! I swear they seem to want a fight!

  75. Peter

    I wonder if someone at Rutgers could create a hybrid plum tree crossed with cacti, and wired with Tazer technology? Now that just might work!

  76. Peter

    Hmmm. Has anyone tried Christmas lights as a deterant? Soap? Squirel head totems on stakes?

  77. Peter

    Hmmm. Has anyone tried Christmas lights as a deterant? Deoderant soap? Squirel head totems on stakes?

    Oh crap, I’ll just get my plums at Costco again this year. Time is money.

  78. stu

    They are here.

    Dark matter squirrels. (As discussed on the Hoodoo Zephyr web site.(Check these guys out – great music and fascinating discussions on alternative taxonomy and the threat posed by tree rats.)

    Yes, Dark Matter Squirrels…
    Space spawned tree vermin, making up a large proportion of the unseen and hitherto immeasurable, mass of the Universe. The mass of the Universe as calculated by speeds and trajectories and red shifts and other sciency stuff, can not be explained by the observeable and measurable elements. If dark matter isn’t measureable, how do we know that it hasn’t got a structure like the normal universe? Its not inconceivable…dark matter elements organising themselves in the same way as normal elements, just more darkly and stealthily, with their only emanation into our Universe being that of mass. If they have organised themselves thusly, then there may well be Dark Matter Squirrels. There probably are…you can count on it…we feel their mass.


    Trap, kill, weigh and then probably eat all the squirrels. This will tell you how much the dark matter squirrels weigh, assuming of course that the dark universe has evolved along similar routes to our own. Admittedly, this will only tell you the weight of the dark matter squirrels and not the mass of all dark matter, but it’s a start. And you get some great scran afterwards.

    The known Universe? Perhaps not…perhaps.

    But they are here.

    Next week, “How best to flambé a tree rat” and “Chimps with guns; marvels of animal training, or just disasters waiting to happen” and the always enlightening “text us with your pointless conjecture” spot.

    They are still here.


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