The heatwave in California has been brutal for people across the state, with temperatures reaching well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) for more than a week now. The heat has also been affecting non-human residents of the Golden State – like squirrels.
Squirrels have been seen laying extremely flat on the ground, prompting concern for their well-being from some people.
Luckily, wildlife officials stress that the behaviour — however strange it may seem — is a completely normal response to extreme heat and nothing to worry about.
As the heat descended on northern California over the past couple of weeks, a wildlife hospital in the Bay Area told SFGate that they’ve been getting a lot of concerned calls about flat squirrels.
Lying flat on the ground with limbs stretched out is called “splooting” or “heat dumping”. By pressing their entire stomach into a cooler surface, the animal can cool itself off in the midday heat.
Squirrels across the country have been seen splooting this summer as high temperatures hit. In Texas, people saw squirrels splayed out in the prototypical sploot position on stone and sidewalks as intense heat descended on the state.
In August, the New York City Parks Department took to Twitter to reassure New Yorkers that the squirrels seen splaying out in the city’s green spaces were just fine.
If you see a squirrel lying down like this, don't worry; it's just fine. On hot days, squirrels keep cool by splooting (stretching out) on cool surfaces to reduce body heat. It is sometimes referred to as heat dumping. pic.twitter.com/pD1T3lPbBH
— NYC Parks (@NYCParks) August 9, 2022
Splooting can be seen in more than just squirrels, too. In July, the US National Parks Service at Alaska’s Katmai National Park tweeted a photo of a grizzly laying with all four limbs outstretched.
“Weekends are for bear sploots,” Katmai National Park tweeted. “Yes, that is a very technical term.”
Dogs and cats have also been known to sploot.
After the heatwave California experienced in the past week, it’s no wonder the squirrels would be looking for a way to cool down. Temperatures in parts of the Bay Area and Central Valley reached up to 116F (47C) on Tuesday, breaking all-time records and sending electricity use soaring as people turned on their air conditioners.
The heat reached everywhere from northern California, near Sacramento and Redding, down to the southern border with Mexico and has lasted since early last week. Temperatures are expected to finally abate across the state by this weekend.
Weekends are for bear sploots. Yes, that is a very technical term. Now that you've made it through the workweek, we invite you to dig a nice belly hole and sploot it out, too. It's not uncommon to see bears feast, dig a belly hole, and relax and digest after a meal.
NPS/M. Walker pic.twitter.com/3jbRD11YCe
— Katmai National Park (@KatmaiNPS) July 2, 2022
Heatwaves like are liable to become much more common as the climate crisis grows, meaning squirrels may have all the more need to cool off.
If the planet reaches 2C of warming above 19th-century temperatures, heatwaves that used to occur every 10 years would happen every other year and be 2.6C hotter, according to a UN climate science panel.
Already, the Earth has warmed about 1.1-1.2C above 19th-century temperatures and is projected to reach 2.7C of warming by the end of the century, according to the Climate Action Tracker, an independent analysis of global climate policy.
This kind of warming will exacerbate disasters like drought, heatwaves and wildfires, all of which have hit California this summer and can be devastating to both human and wildlife communities.