Whenever I see a squirrel in the woods, it is always the big bushy tail flipping around that gets my attention first. A pray animal with a big bushy flag calling attention to it's self seems to be counter survival, a big flag waving here I am, come eat me.

A Sciuridae in Taipei *Image from Wikisource

Video link, of tail twitching

Why do squirrels have twitchy bushy tails?

Edit to Clarify Squirrels do not have a high reproduction rate, there are multiple difference between species but most seem to average about half a dozen young per year.. While a pair of rabbits can (though unlikely) create 1300 offspring in a year Wild rabbit and squirrels have similar coloring and predators. There are of course multiple differences between rabbits and squirrels. Given the difference in reproduction and a big wavy flag that says come eat me. It seems that if there is a rabbit and a squirrel sitting on the forest floor eating breakfast, the one waving the flag is most likely to be seen and eaten.

  • $\begingroup$ We all know that squirrels love to climb trees. They use their bushy tails to keep their balance and also to keep itself steady as it leaps across treetops. Also, it uses its tail to keep itself warm in summer months It may attract attention towards the animal but the tail serves a totally different purpose. $\endgroup$
    – user18914
    Oct 5, 2015 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ Clicking on this post I was hopping to see a nice picture of a squirrel...I'm a little disappointed $\ddot \smile$. Also, you probably meant counter adaptive (or simply not adaptive) instead of counter evolutionary. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Oct 6, 2015 at 0:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Remi.b image and video link provided $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2015 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe female squirrels just like males with bushy tails? Squirrels are pretty agile and fast. I don't think slightly increased visibility due to a bushy tail is a serious disadvantage. Also, note the coloring of the tail in the picture. In case the squirrel has to hide its tail might even enhance camouflage. $\endgroup$
    – Roland
    Oct 6, 2015 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ The rabbit eating breakfast has a bright white tail it is waiving when running from predators. And long ears (though not fluffy). I don't really see a lot of difference between the breakfast mates visibility. $\endgroup$
    – skymningen
    Mar 14, 2017 at 9:06

1 Answer 1


Tree jumping.

The obvious answer is that having a balancing ballast is incredibly handy for some of the death defying jumps squirrels perform. The tail is needed for that.

A big bushy tail might be a good counter to predation.

You make the assumption that an inconspicuous tail would be bad for predation. I would challenge that assumption, but I am making an educated guess so feel free to debate this.

Tail flagging in ground squirrels is used to deter predators and communicate vigilance. Perhaps something similar occurs in tree-dwelling squirrels too.

Rabbits have a short white tail which isn't particularly camouflaged. It helps to confuse the predator allowing the rabbit to make sharp turns that the predator cannot anticipate.

In the case of this big bushy "twitchy" tail (which like rabbits, some squirrel tails have white tips, like in your picture), a predator probably cannot see the body and importantly cannot see or is distracted from the footing and pacing of the squirrel. If you've ever seen a dog chase a squirrel, the squirrel is easily able to outmanoeuvre the dog long enough to make it safely to a tree, probably because the dog can't predict the squirrel's trajectory due to the distracting and writhing tail.

Let's say a predator did get its jaws or claws near the squirrel and tried to take a chunk. There is a good chance all the predator will grasp is a bunch of tail fur. The squirrel will probably be sore but will live to tell the tail. (I couldn't resist)

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    $\begingroup$ +1, just to have the honor of getting you up to 3k ;-) (and of course for your nice answer) $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Oct 6, 2015 at 12:01

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