Some siblings can't wait to leave the nest and make their own way in the world.
But for five baby squirrels in Wisconsin, that wasn't an option.
They had managed to get themselves tangled up in each other, their tails woven hopelessly together. This kind of situation — however bizarre it may seem — isn't entirely uncommon in the wild. In fact, the infamous "king rat" configuration, sees rodents tied together, painfully, by their tails. In every case, without human intervention, it leads to a slow, agonizing end for all involved.
Luckily for these squirrels, helping human hands weren't far away. Someone came across the writhing, squeaking bundle of anti-joy last week and called the Wisconsin Humane Society.
Not long after that, wildlife experts conducted a delicate operation on the understandably agitated siblings. Their fur was painfully matted and encrusted with all kinds of debris, including that bane of all wildlife — plastic.
In fact, with every squirrel lunging in a separate direction, rehabilitators had to resort to anesthesia to keep them still.
"Bit by bit we snipped away at the grass-and-plastic knot with scissors, being very careful to make sure we weren't snipping anyone's tail in the process," the humane society detailed in a Facebook post. "We were increasingly concerned because all of them had suffered from varying degrees of tissue damage to their tails caused by circulatory impairment."
And 20 minutes later, what once was one became five.
"I can't even imagine how stressful and uncomfortable they must have been," Crystal Sharlow-Schaefer, a wildlife rehabilitator at the humane society, tells MNN. "Their tails were really, really tangled."
And how did they get themselves to desperately knotted? Sharlow-Schaefer says such tangles occasionally happen, especially when squirrels nest in a particularly sticky place — like a pine tree. In this case, the mother made her nest with materials that included bits of plastic, which likely clamped down on those flicking baby tails.
While a tangled tail typically spells a bad end for any animal, these siblings are already bouncing back nicely at the Milwaukee rehabilitation center.
"They were pretty vigorous," says Sharlow-Schaefer, who checked up on them Monday. "They were pretty excited to be free of each other. They're running all around."
But it may still be a while, she adds, before they're ready to leave the facilities — and find their own path in life.
"They're also quite young so we would want to make sure that they're fully able to climb and use all those muscles that they haven't been able to use before."