TNB Night Owl – Squirrel King

Eastern grey squirrel, photo by

Have you heard of a rat king? While they’ve popped up with regularity in children’s fantasy stories and cartoons… typically those involving heroic mice in pseudo-Victorian or Middle Ages eras… they have a real-life counterpart that has nothing to do with a large rodent wearing a crown and wielding a scepter.

A rat king is a bundle of rats (typically ten or more) who have, while clustered together in close quarters, tangled their tails into a knot that cannot be undone. Once this cluster occurred, so did the magic.

What magic depends on the locality. In some areas of Europe, it was said that the rats would gain unnatural intellect and cleverness. In other places, the rats would simply act together… but as ten or more rats attacking is more dangerous than a single one, it was a fearsome prospect. Sometimes a Rat King was alleged to be able to control other rats. In all places, it was taken as a bad omen.

There are various rat kings on display in small museums. According to rodent experts, they’re almost certainly all fakes. Rats bound together would be headed for starvation and early death; in the unlikely event some did get stuck, what would happen is what has happened in other instances of rats getting their tails irretrievably lodged someplace. The rat would simply chew off its own tail.

Squirrels, however…

Most species of squirrel live at least part of their lives in trees. They are naturally equipped for such a life due to their sharp claws, excellent balance, small size and superior leaping ability. Not all trees are alike, however, and sometimes a pairing happens which is not especially good for the squirrels. Large population booms of squirrels and sap-laden trees have been known to produce “squirrel kings”.

Named after rat kings, they’re what happens when a group of baby squirrels gets sap in their nest. The young squirrels have their tails together, and when one tries to leave, the others discover they’re going to follow.

It can also happen when a group of adult squirrels gather together on a tree with sap on its trunk or branches. The fluffy tails pick up some of the sap, then the squirrel sits near its cohorts. It rises to leave and… stuck.

There are a few remedies for this. The best one for the squirrels is if someone trained in animal care can capture and sedate the squirrels and then just dissolve the sap or shave the tails. If that doesn’t happen, the squirrels will sometimes pull free on their own, taking tufts of the other squirrels’ fur with them.

If the adhesive is too thick for them to pull free, and nobody is around to help, they are easy prey for the many predators who eat squirrels and, if they can avoid that fate, are likely to starve due to inefficient hunting. So, if you happen across one of these… call animal control.

And get a picture while you wait for the officials to arrive, because they do look amazing.

Question of the night: What are some group activities you didn’t particularly enjoy, but wound up doing anyway?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.