Six baby squirrels in Elkhorn, Nebraska, had to be untangled by local animal control officers after they were discovered squirming in a knot of tails on Monday.
As bizarre as it sounds, rodents actually get tied together semi-regularly.
The phenomenon occurs when squirrels brush against clumps of diabolically sticky tree sap and then sleep in closely packed nests, tails curled together. Their highly flexible appendages can also get intertwined with pieces of garbage.
Similar clusters have been reported in European rats since the 1500s, and because humans are weird, these “rat kings” took on a quasi-mythical status. In German folklore, sightings of the tangled rats were said to foretell bad luck, and people throughout Europe spread the idea that the immobilized groups survived because other rats brought them food, hence the royal designation.
The macabre interest was so fervent that accounts from the 18th and 19th centuries tell of rat king specimens that were slaughtered and paraded down public streets, or preserved and put on display in museums. Some historians even hypothesize that swindlers took to creating fake rat kings in order to exhibit them at fairs and freak shows.
But thankfully for the latest “squirrel king”, a good number of humans now view helplessly knotted animals as a humane emergency more than a possibly profitable novelty. According to the Omaha World-Herald, the six-membered aggregation was spotted clamoring in a tree outside the home of Craig Luttman.
“It was like a tug of war,” Luttman told the newspaper. “All were going in different directions.”
Concerned, Luttman called the Nebraska Humane Society, who brought in Laura Stastny, executive director of Nebraska Wildlife Rehab and experienced squirrel detangler. Apparently, squirrel kings happen once or twice a year in the Elkhorn area alone.
First, Stastny calmed the squirrels with a mild painkiller and covered them with a cloth. She then got to work trimming the sticky fur and picking apart the clump of tails. The whole process is said to have taken an hour.
The squirrels are now doing well, though several will need surgery to amputate parts of their tails that were irreparably harmed.