Photos and videos of squirrels lying flat on their stomachs, with their arms, legs and tails outstretched, have been making the rounds on social media lately, raising the question—why are the creatures striking such goofy-looking poses?
This behavior is known as “splooting,” and wildlife experts say it’s a perfectly normal, albeit somewhat comical, way for squirrels and other animals to cool down amid hot weather. And lately, cooling down has been essential: Around the world, July 3 and 4 were “unofficially” the two hottest days since humans began keeping track, as Melina Walling and Seth Borenstein report for the Associated Press (AP).
Texas and other southern states have been facing extreme heat in recent weeks, with temperatures soaring to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in some places. At least 13 people have died, and many more are streaming into emergency departments because of heat-related conditions.
But humans aren’t the only ones trying to stay cool amid the heat wave—animals are, too.
Officials with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spotted a squirrel splooting in the shade on a concrete walkway near a building at Inks Lake State Park, located in the central part of the Lone Star state northwest of Austin.
The department posted a video of the furry rodent on Facebook, writing in the caption: “I feel ya, Squirrel, I feel ya.” The clip apparently resonated with users on the social media site, with many chiming in to share their own pictures of splooting squirrels and pets.
The rare vertical sploot. pic.twitter.com/YgBy2gya4F— National Park Service (@NatlParkService) June 6, 2023
This behavior isn’t new, but “if it’s hotter out and/or for longer periods of time, animals might do this more,” says Dana Karelus, a mammologist with the department, to Chron’s Ariana Garcia. Smartphones may also have something to do with the recent increased awareness of splooting: When people are out and about, it’s easy for them to snap a quick photo of an animal lying spread-eagle on the cool concrete, then share it online, Karelus adds to the publication.
But if global temperatures continue to rise because of human-caused climate change, there may come a day when splooting simply won’t be enough to cool creatures down.
“For every kind of thermal regulatory mechanism, there is a point at which it doesn’t work anymore, and that depends on environmental temperature,” says Andrea Rummel, a bioscientist at Rice University, to NPR’s Kai McNamee. “Just like with humans, sweating works really well a lot of the time. But if it’s too humid outside and the water won’t evaporate, you can sweat all you want but it won’t evaporate off you and draw that heat away.”
Sploot like nobody’s watching. pic.twitter.com/31iGceEoQp— National Park Service (@NatlParkService) June 5, 2023
Squirrels aren’t the only animals that sploot. Pet owners may have witnessed their dogs and cats lying this way, and even large mammals get in on the splooting action. Hopping on the recent social media trend, the National Park Service posted an entire thread of images showing various animals splooting on Twitter, including a bear and a turtle.
“Sploot like nobody’s watching,” the park service wrote.
If you see an animal splooting outside on a hot day, it’s best to simply leave it alone. But one way to help support wildlife overall is to ensure they have a source of clean, fresh water, as Sarah Papworth, a conservation biologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, writes for the Conversation.
“Even heat-loving species can only thrive if they can also find enough to drink,” she writes.