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Warning! The lunch you save might be your own

This may be a gross question, but twice recently we've seen one of those pesky ground squirrels dash across the street in front of a car while attending to a recently deceased "friend" in the road.

In the second instance, I saw a squirrel dragging its smooshed friend off the street. Is this normal behavior?

What on earth do they do with the remains? Squirrel funeral?

— Susan, Medford

You have opened up a very gross subject indeed, Susan. And we promise to get even grosser as we attempt to answer your questions.

First of all, this is a very busy time for squirrels and other rodents, which are raising new families as summer approaches.

"They're on the move looking for food for their newborn," said Cory Alvis, education supervisor with Wildlife Images.

As a species, squirrels are designed to "zig and zag" to avoid becoming prey, she said. Unfortunately this behavior causes squirrels to run in one direction, then spin around and head back under your tires, where they get smooshed.

Alvis said she's noticed the same kind of behavior that you've noticed, Susan.

"I've seen that happen myself. I've seen them dragging off another squirrel."

The most likely reason, she said, is to eat the carcass. These little squirrels are cannibals.

"I would imagine it is the biggest motivation behind this behavior," she said.

Eating the carcass not only feeds the squirrels, but it also gets rid of a carcass that might attract unwanted predators and scavengers to the area, she said.

Alvis said many rodents are very opportunistic about their food supplies. Antlers shed by deer often disappear in the forest because armies of little rodents chew them up.

"They make use of a lot of different varieties of food," she said.

All we can say to these little squirrels, Susan, is "bon appetit."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.