Squirrel and deer potty training

I don’t know whether this is gross or sublime.  Actually, I think it is both gross and sublime.  Mostly sublime:

Baby squirrels must be taught to defecate. This fascinating bit of information came from Don Moore , associate director of animal care sciences at the National Zoo. Earlier in his career, Don worked in Syracuse, N.Y., rehabilitating baby squirrels.

Squirrels are among species — deer are another — where the mother uses her mouth to carry her offspring’s poo and pee away from the nest. This is to protect her litter from predators.

“Evolutionarily, that’s a great strategy,” Don said. “The mother’s removing the only thing that can give [the baby] a scent: the pee and poo.” With no scent to follow, predators can’t find the defenseless baby.

The mother’s selfless act is so hard-wired in a squirrel’s very being that babies can urinate and defecate only after being stimulated by the mother licking around . . . down there.

Orphaned squirrels raised by humans risk becoming constipated and bloated. “The gut stops moving,” Don said. “You don’t want that to happen, so you stimulate them. In fact, you have to start stimulating them just to get them to feed.”

Squirrel moms provide stimulation with their tongues. “We don’t recommend that,” Don said. “We would use a warm, damp washcloth.”

Baby squirrels must have their nether regions stimulated at every feeding from birth to about five weeks of age, when their eyes are open and their fur is coming in.

“It’s a wonderful day when they start doing it themselves,” Don said.

via Answer Man gives the scoop on squirrel poop, other readers’ questions – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Dan Kempin

    Many animals eat poop, though “use their mouth to carry it away from the nest” has got to be the best euphemism I have ever heard. It’s generlly thought to be done for nutritional reasons. I suppose we could give the deer and squirrel the benefit of the doubt and assume they are doing it “for the children,” (who hasn’t heard that before?), but those little critters still have a scent.

    I did NOT know that a baby squirrel needs to be, you know, stimulated. Wow. You really do learn something every day.

  • Dan Kempin

    Many animals eat poop, though “use their mouth to carry it away from the nest” has got to be the best euphemism I have ever heard. It’s generlly thought to be done for nutritional reasons. I suppose we could give the deer and squirrel the benefit of the doubt and assume they are doing it “for the children,” (who hasn’t heard that before?), but those little critters still have a scent.

    I did NOT know that a baby squirrel needs to be, you know, stimulated. Wow. You really do learn something every day.

  • Pete

    Now I ask you – where else can you find a blog where consecutive entries are: 1) a discussion of the biblical understanding of confession and absolution and, 2) an explanation of the physiology of neonatal squirrel defecation.
    Too too good, Dr. Veith!

  • Pete

    Now I ask you – where else can you find a blog where consecutive entries are: 1) a discussion of the biblical understanding of confession and absolution and, 2) an explanation of the physiology of neonatal squirrel defecation.
    Too too good, Dr. Veith!

  • Helen K

    I love this blog!

  • Helen K

    I love this blog!

  • Tom Hering

    I get it. Mother squirrels are politicians, and baby squirrels are lobbyists, and poop is money. How transparent, Dr. Veith!

  • Tom Hering

    I get it. Mother squirrels are politicians, and baby squirrels are lobbyists, and poop is money. How transparent, Dr. Veith!

  • Mattie Chatham

    I’m pretty sure cats do this, too.

  • Mattie Chatham

    I’m pretty sure cats do this, too.

  • Jon

    Evolutionary?! Oh, of course.

    But, then, I wonder why we don’t do that.

  • Jon

    Evolutionary?! Oh, of course.

    But, then, I wonder why we don’t do that.

  • Mary S

    This post is making me smile. I’m with Pete!!

  • Mary S

    This post is making me smile. I’m with Pete!!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Tom (@4), that can’t be right — conservatives would never compare political contributions to “poop”! To them, it is the purest, constitutionally-protected speech, a monetary Wordsworth or Shakespeare!

    Unless it comes from unions, in which case, yes, it’s poop.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Tom (@4), that can’t be right — conservatives would never compare political contributions to “poop”! To them, it is the purest, constitutionally-protected speech, a monetary Wordsworth or Shakespeare!

    Unless it comes from unions, in which case, yes, it’s poop.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Jon (@6), are you saying you see this as an argument against evolution, somehow? Can you explain?

    I wonder why we don’t do that.

    Well, we do. But since we have hands and opposable thumbs, we remove the poop with those, instead. Of course, we only do it because we don’t like the smell, not because we’re afraid that something else will follow it. And there’s also the whole diaper-rash thing, too.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Jon (@6), are you saying you see this as an argument against evolution, somehow? Can you explain?

    I wonder why we don’t do that.

    Well, we do. But since we have hands and opposable thumbs, we remove the poop with those, instead. Of course, we only do it because we don’t like the smell, not because we’re afraid that something else will follow it. And there’s also the whole diaper-rash thing, too.

  • Dan Kempin

    “Earlier in his career, Don worked in Syracuse, N.Y., rehabilitating baby squirrels.”

    Wait a minute . . . you can get a job rehabilitating baby squirrels? Really? How does the market work for that, exactly?

    Never mind.

  • Dan Kempin

    “Earlier in his career, Don worked in Syracuse, N.Y., rehabilitating baby squirrels.”

    Wait a minute . . . you can get a job rehabilitating baby squirrels? Really? How does the market work for that, exactly?

    Never mind.

  • cattail

    Anyone who has raised puppies or kittens knows this! Let’s just be thankful we don’t have to do it with human babies!

  • cattail

    Anyone who has raised puppies or kittens knows this! Let’s just be thankful we don’t have to do it with human babies!

  • Jon

    @11 tODD, no, but I’m wondering why it so obviously and clearly points to evidence of “macro-evolution” if that is what is being claimed by the interviewee. So, does this activity help the squirrels become anything other than squirrels? If you could show it did, then I think you’d have to reexamine whether the reason that we also do it is in fact not that we just appreciate the personal hygiene of our progeny, but that we, like our rodent-mammialian forebears who did it for protection, may also actually do it because we fear our offspring might be eaten. Otherwise, this activity is not evidence of macroevolution; it may be, at most, evidence of natural selection. Quite different.

  • Jon

    @11 tODD, no, but I’m wondering why it so obviously and clearly points to evidence of “macro-evolution” if that is what is being claimed by the interviewee. So, does this activity help the squirrels become anything other than squirrels? If you could show it did, then I think you’d have to reexamine whether the reason that we also do it is in fact not that we just appreciate the personal hygiene of our progeny, but that we, like our rodent-mammialian forebears who did it for protection, may also actually do it because we fear our offspring might be eaten. Otherwise, this activity is not evidence of macroevolution; it may be, at most, evidence of natural selection. Quite different.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Jon (@12), I think you’re reading quite a bit into passing references to evolution in the article — and, moreover, I’m not sure you’ve got the science down correctly.

    No one’s talking about “macro-evolution” except you — indeed, that term as it typically comes up in Christian circles is generally abused. For instance, what’s the difference, in your understanding of the terms, between “macro-evolution” and “natural selection”?

    But no, this isn’t about “squirrels becom[ing] anything other than squirrels”, it’s about squirrels adapting to their environment.

    I believe the way it was meant to be understood in the article is that this habit, now hard-wired in the modern squirrel’s brain (as can be seen by the fact that presumably all modern squirrels behave like this), came about through the process of evolution, allowing squirrels with it to propagate better than squirrels without it (whose babies were presumably easier for predators to find and thus less likely to live). But we’re still talking about squirrels being squirrels.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Jon (@12), I think you’re reading quite a bit into passing references to evolution in the article — and, moreover, I’m not sure you’ve got the science down correctly.

    No one’s talking about “macro-evolution” except you — indeed, that term as it typically comes up in Christian circles is generally abused. For instance, what’s the difference, in your understanding of the terms, between “macro-evolution” and “natural selection”?

    But no, this isn’t about “squirrels becom[ing] anything other than squirrels”, it’s about squirrels adapting to their environment.

    I believe the way it was meant to be understood in the article is that this habit, now hard-wired in the modern squirrel’s brain (as can be seen by the fact that presumably all modern squirrels behave like this), came about through the process of evolution, allowing squirrels with it to propagate better than squirrels without it (whose babies were presumably easier for predators to find and thus less likely to live). But we’re still talking about squirrels being squirrels.

  • Jonathan

    Pete @ 2: Exactly what I was thinking!

    Jon & tODD: I’m fully in favor of dropping completely the terms macro- and micro-evolution. They are terms almost entirely used by Christians (and I’m sure they were coined by them too), rendering them extremely ineffective when arguing with an atheist; they’ll likely shutdown upon hearing a “Christian-made term.”
    My view is that any attempt to “Christianize” modern evolutionary theory while STILL maintaining that “squirrels will always be squirrels” will just muddy the debate. The word “evolution” is so volatile that further redefinition isn’t helpful or productive.
    I would rather argue for *speciation* and against *evolution*. Now, you STILL have the task of proving that a lot of *speciation* won’t EVER get you *evolution*, even given any amount of time. But, it’s a lot better than trying to hijack a prized word from your opponents.

  • Jonathan

    Pete @ 2: Exactly what I was thinking!

    Jon & tODD: I’m fully in favor of dropping completely the terms macro- and micro-evolution. They are terms almost entirely used by Christians (and I’m sure they were coined by them too), rendering them extremely ineffective when arguing with an atheist; they’ll likely shutdown upon hearing a “Christian-made term.”
    My view is that any attempt to “Christianize” modern evolutionary theory while STILL maintaining that “squirrels will always be squirrels” will just muddy the debate. The word “evolution” is so volatile that further redefinition isn’t helpful or productive.
    I would rather argue for *speciation* and against *evolution*. Now, you STILL have the task of proving that a lot of *speciation* won’t EVER get you *evolution*, even given any amount of time. But, it’s a lot better than trying to hijack a prized word from your opponents.

  • Jon

    Well, what is meant by the interviewee’s use of the term “evolution” then?

    I think it is nothing more than “natural selection” which is a term that is Darwinian, and therefore orthodox scientific, no? I mean, he wrote a whole book on natural selection.

    So, I can leave out “macro” if it is scientifically offensive or subject to ridicule from atheists.

    But, the point remains, what evidence does this adaptation (if it even is really that-because is there any evidence of squirel species than dies out because they didn’t munch poo?) show that it helped the squirrel speciate(?) into something more complex than a squirrel, instead of just be a squirrel species that happens to survive on account of it?

    Otherwise, why do the evolutionists always just get a free pass when they make such sweeping generalizations, saying, “See, obviously this feature is evolution in action”?

    I throw the “poo” card.

  • Jon

    Well, what is meant by the interviewee’s use of the term “evolution” then?

    I think it is nothing more than “natural selection” which is a term that is Darwinian, and therefore orthodox scientific, no? I mean, he wrote a whole book on natural selection.

    So, I can leave out “macro” if it is scientifically offensive or subject to ridicule from atheists.

    But, the point remains, what evidence does this adaptation (if it even is really that-because is there any evidence of squirel species than dies out because they didn’t munch poo?) show that it helped the squirrel speciate(?) into something more complex than a squirrel, instead of just be a squirrel species that happens to survive on account of it?

    Otherwise, why do the evolutionists always just get a free pass when they make such sweeping generalizations, saying, “See, obviously this feature is evolution in action”?

    I throw the “poo” card.

  • Jon

    Natural Selection = Jon’s “speciation” pretty much. It’s a reason for variance within a kind. Long beaks, short beaks etc. Hair, hairless. The kind has an ability already built into its information database that allows it to change and survive and adapt. But there is a finite edge to it, I don’t care how much time you throw at it.

    Macro, er, just plain “evolution” = poo eating squirrel becomes poo eating poodle, partly on account of the fact that *presumably* proto rodent squirrel (scrat?) learned to eat poo along the way, and endured countless eons of other subsequent changes characterized by periods of punctuated accelerated change and stasis. Molecules, to squirrel, to man. So why don’t we still eat poo?

    Can it even be shown that there was a point at which squirrels never ate poo?

  • Jon

    Natural Selection = Jon’s “speciation” pretty much. It’s a reason for variance within a kind. Long beaks, short beaks etc. Hair, hairless. The kind has an ability already built into its information database that allows it to change and survive and adapt. But there is a finite edge to it, I don’t care how much time you throw at it.

    Macro, er, just plain “evolution” = poo eating squirrel becomes poo eating poodle, partly on account of the fact that *presumably* proto rodent squirrel (scrat?) learned to eat poo along the way, and endured countless eons of other subsequent changes characterized by periods of punctuated accelerated change and stasis. Molecules, to squirrel, to man. So why don’t we still eat poo?

    Can it even be shown that there was a point at which squirrels never ate poo?

  • Jon

    And I am not coming at this from a Christianizing perspective. I am a hardwired “evolution” skeptic as the origin of the species in the way that Darwin meant *all* species. I object to it on scientific grounds as an explanation for the origin of what we see today if the universe is only 4.3BYO.

  • Jon

    And I am not coming at this from a Christianizing perspective. I am a hardwired “evolution” skeptic as the origin of the species in the way that Darwin meant *all* species. I object to it on scientific grounds as an explanation for the origin of what we see today if the universe is only 4.3BYO.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jon, why do you assume that is some species, like squirrels, transport poo orally, and others eat it, that our forebears necessarily did the same?

    Or, if that was done, that a behaviour once acquired can never be lost?

    Is that your rather simplistic understanding of evolution? If so, your sweeping statements regarding being the “hardwired” skeptic would quite confirm the atheists’ bias of Theists being simpletons.

    If one wants to make an argument about something about which you don’t know anything, rather be quiet and be thought foolish, than open your mouth and remove all doubt!

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jon, why do you assume that is some species, like squirrels, transport poo orally, and others eat it, that our forebears necessarily did the same?

    Or, if that was done, that a behaviour once acquired can never be lost?

    Is that your rather simplistic understanding of evolution? If so, your sweeping statements regarding being the “hardwired” skeptic would quite confirm the atheists’ bias of Theists being simpletons.

    If one wants to make an argument about something about which you don’t know anything, rather be quiet and be thought foolish, than open your mouth and remove all doubt!

  • Jonathan

    “Evolutionarily, that’s a great strategy,” Don said.

    When broad, offhand statements like this are made, the person is most certainly implying “evolution” to mean *the whole package*, goo to you and all, not ONLY natural selection, which is all this behavior demonstrates. Scientific exploration of natural selection is great, because the speciation/adaptation of life is unimaginably complex, but you run into scientific issues when atheists (and those Christians so desperate for approval) assume [evolution = naturalSelection plus time]. In reality [evolution = naturalSelection plus timeThatNeverExisted plus lotsOfUnscientificAssumptions], therefore [evolution =/= naturalSelection plus anything]. Atheist scientists in biology/genetics are often still doing good/valuable research, because they’re studying how organisms are affected by natural selection.

    “Evolutionarily, that’s a great strategy,” Don said.
    It’s a great strategy because it increases the animals’ chances of surviving; if it boosts the number of offspring, the strategy will be retained for the future. Period. Nothing about past generations or future generations were even mentioned, so right away an evolutionary claim is invalid. Now, to paint this as an example of micro-evolution fully implies [microEvolution plus lotsMoreMicroEvolution = macroEcolutionToSomeDegree]. This is why I don’t like those terms. Claiming that [microEvolution = naturalSelection] is a terrible idea, because *this is exactly what the atheists are arguing!* [microEvolution = naturalSelection plus lessTimeThanWhatYouNeedForREGULARevolution]

    Sorry for going on so long over one small issue :S

  • Jonathan

    “Evolutionarily, that’s a great strategy,” Don said.

    When broad, offhand statements like this are made, the person is most certainly implying “evolution” to mean *the whole package*, goo to you and all, not ONLY natural selection, which is all this behavior demonstrates. Scientific exploration of natural selection is great, because the speciation/adaptation of life is unimaginably complex, but you run into scientific issues when atheists (and those Christians so desperate for approval) assume [evolution = naturalSelection plus time]. In reality [evolution = naturalSelection plus timeThatNeverExisted plus lotsOfUnscientificAssumptions], therefore [evolution =/= naturalSelection plus anything]. Atheist scientists in biology/genetics are often still doing good/valuable research, because they’re studying how organisms are affected by natural selection.

    “Evolutionarily, that’s a great strategy,” Don said.
    It’s a great strategy because it increases the animals’ chances of surviving; if it boosts the number of offspring, the strategy will be retained for the future. Period. Nothing about past generations or future generations were even mentioned, so right away an evolutionary claim is invalid. Now, to paint this as an example of micro-evolution fully implies [microEvolution plus lotsMoreMicroEvolution = macroEcolutionToSomeDegree]. This is why I don’t like those terms. Claiming that [microEvolution = naturalSelection] is a terrible idea, because *this is exactly what the atheists are arguing!* [microEvolution = naturalSelection plus lessTimeThanWhatYouNeedForREGULARevolution]

    Sorry for going on so long over one small issue :S

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    NaJonathan – don’t be such a creationist nazi. Not every time an academic or scientist says “evolution” it means “goo to you” etc etc. That image lives in the imagination of the Kenhamites only. Furthermore, it is quite reasonable to use the terms interchangeably, since natural selection is the “operative mechanism” of evolution. Pedantic replies such as yours don’t serve any purposes other to make you look like hair-trigger reactionary.

    Btw, as you may or may not know, I am a orthodox Lutheran, former creationist, and am quite comfortable with the scientific consensus on evolution, the age of the earth etc. Also, btw, evolution is a biological process (as the word’s main scientific use), and as the earth is much older than the life on it, has little implication for the actual age of the earth. The age of the earth is determined by physics, within the framework of geological processes. Which in itself is again entirely different to the age of the universe, which is determined by entirely different processes. Do try and get your facts straight.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    NaJonathan – don’t be such a creationist nazi. Not every time an academic or scientist says “evolution” it means “goo to you” etc etc. That image lives in the imagination of the Kenhamites only. Furthermore, it is quite reasonable to use the terms interchangeably, since natural selection is the “operative mechanism” of evolution. Pedantic replies such as yours don’t serve any purposes other to make you look like hair-trigger reactionary.

    Btw, as you may or may not know, I am a orthodox Lutheran, former creationist, and am quite comfortable with the scientific consensus on evolution, the age of the earth etc. Also, btw, evolution is a biological process (as the word’s main scientific use), and as the earth is much older than the life on it, has little implication for the actual age of the earth. The age of the earth is determined by physics, within the framework of geological processes. Which in itself is again entirely different to the age of the universe, which is determined by entirely different processes. Do try and get your facts straight.

  • Helen K

    @Klasie-I appreciate your comment. Doesn’t change a thing about our great God!

  • Helen K

    @Klasie-I appreciate your comment. Doesn’t change a thing about our great God!

  • Jonathan

    @Helen – It can change a thing about our great God. Not necessarily, because not everyone is going to connect all the dots right away, but if you really want to reconcile Genesis (and the Gospel in general) with what we observe in the universe, something’s got to give.

    I’m fully confident that anyone can be quite comfortable with the scientific consensus on evolution, and still honestly be an orthodox Lutheran. But if you start laying out the details of what these two positions claim, you’re going to be forced to explain away one of them.

    What are your explanations for an evolutionary Genesis?

  • Jonathan

    @Helen – It can change a thing about our great God. Not necessarily, because not everyone is going to connect all the dots right away, but if you really want to reconcile Genesis (and the Gospel in general) with what we observe in the universe, something’s got to give.

    I’m fully confident that anyone can be quite comfortable with the scientific consensus on evolution, and still honestly be an orthodox Lutheran. But if you start laying out the details of what these two positions claim, you’re going to be forced to explain away one of them.

    What are your explanations for an evolutionary Genesis?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jonathan – I agree with Origen, Augustine and others that the first chapters of Genesis are not literal history. That doesn’t make them wrong or anything. It makes them – not literal history. We should remember who the primary audience was – a decidely pre-modern people, pre-Greek influence, pre-all of that.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jonathan – I agree with Origen, Augustine and others that the first chapters of Genesis are not literal history. That doesn’t make them wrong or anything. It makes them – not literal history. We should remember who the primary audience was – a decidely pre-modern people, pre-Greek influence, pre-all of that.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Continued: one could go into the type of literature Genesis 1-11 is, but that’s a big subject. But those early chapters sets the scene – God as the Prime, Sole Originator of the Cosmos (I like the Greek term here, subverting the possible mulitverse compication). Man as His interest here on this planet, and in desperate need of Him. Witness the move from the amlost mythopoeic writing in the early chapters, to the gritty, almost familiar tone (incredible, considering its age) in the story, the history, of Abram, later Abraham, “father of the faithful”. It is an amazing transition.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Continued: one could go into the type of literature Genesis 1-11 is, but that’s a big subject. But those early chapters sets the scene – God as the Prime, Sole Originator of the Cosmos (I like the Greek term here, subverting the possible mulitverse compication). Man as His interest here on this planet, and in desperate need of Him. Witness the move from the amlost mythopoeic writing in the early chapters, to the gritty, almost familiar tone (incredible, considering its age) in the story, the history, of Abram, later Abraham, “father of the faithful”. It is an amazing transition.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Considering the opposition to evolution, an old earth & universe etc.: submit that those who paint specific pictures of those who hold to these in all sorts of negative light, employing loaded terminology, and directly or indirectly accuse them of lying and subtextual agenda’s, are most frequently guilty of breaking the eighth commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness…

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Considering the opposition to evolution, an old earth & universe etc.: submit that those who paint specific pictures of those who hold to these in all sorts of negative light, employing loaded terminology, and directly or indirectly accuse them of lying and subtextual agenda’s, are most frequently guilty of breaking the eighth commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness…

  • Helen K

    @22 Jonathan..and Klasie-

    I can’t compete with the bigger brains here. (: And I say that very kindly. I grew up in a very fundamentalist, pietist leaning church which never challenged nor thought much about these proprositions. After years of questioning and praying to God to reveal his truth as He deemed necessary for me, and becoming a confessing Lutheran last year, I’m finally satisfied and have ceased worrying and fretting about many things that used to be very important to me. Not so much evolutionery theory as is being discussed here, but an entire philosophy of the why’s and wherefore’s of existence. I’ve read some of William Lane Craig’s writings in the past still thinking to learn more.

    I can’t respond to your question, Jonathan, regarding an evolutionary view in Genesis. I simply don’t know. Klasie’s comments just strike a chord with me and what I mean is, that for me, I’ve entrusted that knowledge with God, our Lord and Saviour. Each time I participate in the Lord’s Supper at the communion rail with our family of believers, I realize I have all the knowledge I require.

    Peace be with you!

  • Helen K

    @22 Jonathan..and Klasie-

    I can’t compete with the bigger brains here. (: And I say that very kindly. I grew up in a very fundamentalist, pietist leaning church which never challenged nor thought much about these proprositions. After years of questioning and praying to God to reveal his truth as He deemed necessary for me, and becoming a confessing Lutheran last year, I’m finally satisfied and have ceased worrying and fretting about many things that used to be very important to me. Not so much evolutionery theory as is being discussed here, but an entire philosophy of the why’s and wherefore’s of existence. I’ve read some of William Lane Craig’s writings in the past still thinking to learn more.

    I can’t respond to your question, Jonathan, regarding an evolutionary view in Genesis. I simply don’t know. Klasie’s comments just strike a chord with me and what I mean is, that for me, I’ve entrusted that knowledge with God, our Lord and Saviour. Each time I participate in the Lord’s Supper at the communion rail with our family of believers, I realize I have all the knowledge I require.

    Peace be with you!


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