The strange behavior of the squirrels in the parks of New York has worried tourists and residents these days: they are lying on their stomachs, face down, with their paws outstretched and perfectly still. There were dozens of reports to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), the municipal department in charge of the maintenance of green spaces. The answer, in these days when the temperature has reached 35 degrees, was reassuring and came via Twitter: «If you see a squirrel lying like this, don’t worry: that’s okay. On hot days, squirrels keep themselves cool by lying and stretching on colder surfaces to reduce body heat ».
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The squirrel phenomenon in New York
A phenomenon for which a new word has been coined: “splooting”. The term has been around for some time on the web and is especially popular with pet owners, who enjoy taking pictures of dogs, cats and puppies lying with their paws outstretched, slouching in funny poses. Fiona McPherson, Lexicographer of the Oxford English Dictionary, told the Washington Post: «Sploot is a relatively recent word – so much so that it has not yet been included in the dictionary – Etymologically, it could be a variant of ‘splat’, but I have also seen suggestions on the fact that it is a mixture of splay – which means to spread apart – and scoot », which can be translated as moving, going further.
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
However, there is a scientific explanation for the curious pose assumed by the squirrels of the Big Apple: “The belly of these animals has less hair than the other parts of the body, so spreading out on the ground helps them cool off,” explains Dan Blumstein, professor in the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. It is a popular trick among mammals: “Even on the hottest days, marmots lie down on the rocks in hot weather, because the boulders are cooler,” adds the professor.