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Squirrels Aren't Going Nuts  at Cabela's

Squirrels Aren't Going Nuts

Author: Florida FWS

They're likely hosting a parasite that causes them some temporary discomfort, but normally it's not fatal.

Squirrel Eating
But don't worry, they're not crazy. They're likely hosting a parasite that causes them some temporary discomfort but normally is not fatal.

Every year, about this time, people call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) alarmed about squirrels that seem to be going crazy. They report that they've seen squirrels rolling on the ground, jumping into the air and generally acting as if something was disturbing them.

But don't worry, they're not crazy. They're likely hosting a parasite that causes them some temporary discomfort but normally is not fatal.

"When the people call, they describe the squirrels' unusual antics, as well as large lumps that appear to be cancerous tumors on the squirrels' bodies," said Mark Asleson, an FWC wildlife biologist. "The lumps are, in fact, cutaneous warbles caused by the larvae of flies commonly known as bot flies."
Squirrel climbing
In the southeastern United States, gray squirrels and other rodents and rabbits are common hosts to these larvae. What happens is that the adult female flies deposit eggs in the immediate vicinity of the hosts' nests or dens where the host comes into contact with the eggs. The eggs hatch when exposed to sudden increases in temperature or moisture, such as occurs when the animal grooms itself.

The larvae then enter the mouth, nose or other body opening and migrate to a location just beneath the skin where they cut a little hole so they can breathe and continue to develop. This development takes from three to seven weeks, depending upon the species of fly and host, and causes itchy swellings that range from half an inch to one inch in diameter.

After the larvae emerge from the skin, the lesions may become infected, but they normally heal without complication.

"In gray squirrels, larvae are most abundant in late summer and fall, which is why people are seeing the lumps right now," Asleson said. "Most of the squirrels will suffer no permanent effects from the parasite, however a few occasionally may become debilitated by heavy infestations."

There is no threat to the safety of pets or humans from the hosts or their larvae. "The best thing to do if you see squirrels exhibiting these characteristics is simply to leave them alone and let nature take its course. Eventually, the larvae will emerge and the squirrels will continue to go about the business of being squirrels," Asleson said.

- Florida FWS -





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