Q. Dear Twig: I like squirrels.
A. You mentioned that.
Q. And their tails.
A. Me too.
Q. And how they use them as umbrellas.
A. And parasols — a parasol being a kind of umbrella. It's light and sometimes frilly. You use it to keep the sun off you.
A. Four scientists studied the Cape ground squirrel in the Kalahari desert in Africa. They found that the squirrel keeps from getting too hot "by using its bushy tail as a portable parasol."
A. And warm in winter. A book called Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide says the tail of a squirrel can help "by serving as a blanket over the squirrel in cold weather."
Q. Maybe no more about squirrels.
P.S. Q. What did the squirrel say to the elephant? A. It sounded like "Nive nee num neanuts."
"The Parasol Tail and Thermoregulatory Behavior of the Cape Ground Squirrel Xerus inauris" was in a scientific journal called Physiological Zoology in 1984. You can find a copy online at http://compphys.bio.uci.edu/bennett/pubs/55.pdf. Included are several photographs of squirrels with their parasol-tails up.
"Thermoregulatory" comes from "thermoregulation": the ability of an organism, such as a squirrel, to keep its body temperature within a certain OK range.
Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie E. Ferrell are the authors of Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).
"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick" is a weekly feature for children (ages 9+; 4th grade reading level) about science, nature, farming and the environment. Online at http://extension.osu.edu/~news/archive.php?series=science.
Brought to you by your scientific friends at The Ohio State University — specifically, at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) (http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu) and with Ohio State University Extension (http://extension.osu.edu). OARDC and OSU Extension are the research and outreach arms, respectively, of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Written by Kurt Knebusch of OARDC and OSU Extension. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt at CommTech, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691; firstname.lastname@example.org; (330) 263-3776.