About those squirrels, Part 1: biological warfare.


It all started for me last summer, with some VERY disturbing news coming out of California. No, not the devastating droughts and unprecedented wildfires, or the L.A.P.D. getting cartoonist Ted Rall fired from the Los Angeles Times by dropping an audio tape that of course turned out to be doctored bullshit. I refer, of course, to the squirrels.

You see, part of Yosemite National Park had been closed by health officials because, it seems, a second tourist there contracted the plague. The plague! As in, you know, the Black Death? That little pandemic that killed an estimated 30–60% of Europe’s total population in the fourteenth century? YES THAT PLAGUE.

And guess how it’s being spread. Go ahead, guess.

By fucking squirrels.

Squirrels are a fucking menace.

You might expect that since I live in downtown Manhattan, if I were to seriously hate on a fellow species–and let’s face it, all species are fellow species—it would probably be pigeons or something. Rats. Maybe cockroaches, which, as far as I’m concerned, ought to be the official symbol of New York City based on their sheer impudence and tenacity alone. Or perhaps those giant waterbugs everyone thinks New Yorkers are totally exaggerating about until they actually see one, and realize that some insects never got the memo that the Permian era ended hundreds of millions of years ago.

NOPE. I have come to loathe and detest no species on Earth so much as those members of the Order Rodentia, Suborder Sciuromorpha, Family Sciuridae. Well, besides H. sapiens, but that should go without saying. (See: virtually every post on my blog.)

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. But Iris! Squirrels are soooo cyoooot! How could you harbor such ill will towards our adorable little bushy-tailed cousins?

Okay first of all, you are woefully uninformed about the true nature and utter depravity of these beasts, an unfortunate and increasingly urgent state of affairs I intend to remedy shortly, and at length. (Wait, what?) Second, “ill will” does not even begin to cover it.

The squirrel-plague nexus.


Yersinia pestis bacteria. THE FUCKING PLAGUE, people. (image: public domain)

In the wild, the plague bacteria Yersinia pestis circulates via flea bites among animal populations, particularly rodents—and squirrels are fucking rodents. Humans, such as our Yosemite tourists, become infected when bitten by a flea that has bitten a plague-ridden rodent. (Like, oh, say…a squirrel.) But that’s not the only disease vector. Once infected, humans can spread the plague among themselves by coughing or sneezing, contact (including sexual contact) with an infected person, indirect contact like touching a contaminated surface, breathing air under certain conditions where the plague bacteria can remain airborne, and the most disgusting transmission route of all, “fecal-oral,” from ingesting food or water contaminated with the diseased shit—literally, the actual shit—of the plague-infected. Think: Ebola. But with squirrels.

Take a look at how fast the plague spread in the fourteenth century—and consider that back then, exposure to infected populations would have happened much more slowly than in the age of widespread air travel and crowded trains.


Black Death strikes Europe: 1347-1353
(image: public domain)

Now it is true that these days the plague is generally treatable with antibiotics, which did not exist during the Black Death pandemic because Jeezus “forgot” to tell us about them. However, the plague can still be fatal if left untreated for whatever reason, including misdiagnosis, or lack of access to quality health care in this truly exceptional country. Just think about that the next time you have “fever, chills, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes,” and your doctor tells you to just go home, get some rest and drink lots of fluids. By the way, do you think the United States has a stash of antibiotics for 323,000,000+ people? And what happens if (when?) an adaptive mutation leaves Yersinia pestis impervious to antibiotics?

Anyway. It turns out the two recent cases of squirrel-plague in Yosemite tourists are by no means isolated incidents, either. In fact:

Since 1970, 40 cases of plague have been reported in California, and nine people have died from the disease.

OMFG. I had no idea.


In Part 2, we will see that squirrels have been organizing and escalating their attacks, performing wanton acts of lawless depravity, engaging in what can only be described as terrorism, and otherwise being real fucking douches.

[a version of this post first appeared at perry street palace; it has been lightly edited and updated for FtB]


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    Beatrix Potter: Rodent/lagomorph propagandist? It will be an uphill battle to undo the work of The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, etc.

  2. Kengi says

    Squirrels may be destroying humanity, but they’re fun to watch while they do it, and cheaper than cable TV.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Are we to conclude from the map here that Cracow, Milan, and the Pyrenees were squirrel-free zones?

  4. says

    There’s a reason the squirrels who forage in our yard and try to get past the baffles on the feeder are all called Squirrel Nemesis… Husband hates them. I gave him a little rubberband gun for Christmas, but he’d rather just shake his fist at them.

    I’m looking forward to Part Two of Squirrel Wars, The Squirrels Strike Back.

  5. says

    Ah! Squirrels I have quite a history with the bastards…
    It has been said, by presumably humorous persons, that the camel is a horse which has been designed by a committee, but this is surely complete nonsense for the camel is clearly an elegant and well rounded beast, showing consistent adaptations to its arid environment from the closeability of its nose right through to the consistency of its dung. Why, one might as well reverse the claim and say that the horse is a camel designed by a committee of Midwestern irrigation and lawn-care specialists …or maybe of avid rose growers.
    No—here we are merely barking up the wrong tree.
    Now if you want to bark up the right tree, and see an animal which really looks like it’s been designed by a committee, look not among the ruminants nor the ungulates but among the rodents. Look, indeed, at that horrid and hypocritical vermin the Gray Squirrel. The Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is plainly nothing more than a rat designed by a committee of the nastier lawyers from Walt Disney Inc. using the Fuller Brush Company as a focus group.
    Raving Nutkin
    also see The Invasion Of The Body Squirrelers for the horrors of a squirrel home invasion. :-)

  6. jimb says

    We’ve got a collection of squirrels that live in the pine tree in our yard. Eating pine cones and dropping the uneaten centers/cobs on the roof, clogging the rain gutters. And leaving the cobs laying around on the deck railing after they’re finished eating.


  7. Lofty says

    Can a plague of squirrels kill enough people to prevent a global climate catastrophe? Inquiring catapult owners would like to know.

  8. DonDueed says

    Plague is endemic in other parts of the Southwest, such as the Navajo desert country of Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Utah and Colorado. I first learned about that, and the periodic outbreaks in that region, from the mystery novels of Joseph Hillerman (and later from a non-fiction essay by that author).

    I don’t think squirrels are a significant vector there. But I’m sure they’d love to be. It’s just that there aren’t many trees for the tree rats in desert country.

  9. says

    Do not hate the squirrels! The squirrels love you and you shall love them!


    No I am not a giant squirrel in a human suit! And that was not a bushy tail that I just tried to hide!

    I’m hoomen… I mean human. Just like you!

    Now worship your squirrel masters!

  10. Onamission5 says

    @jimb #12:

    The squirrels at our old house used to collect black walnuts from the ground, climb back into the trees, and drop them on our heads. I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose.

    The squirrels at our new house content themselves with figuring out new, more creative ways to skirt our bird feeder protection system, aka one lazy and elderly but enthusiastic dog, two much faster but less enthusiastic and easily foiled cats, and my pathetic attempts at cordoning off the suet with homemade wire cages. Thunk from the trees to the shed roof. Whee from the shed roof to the feeder stand. Flip upside down on the suet cage. Tilt the cage to one side so the feeder tips to the other. Reach in and eat with their grabby little too-many-toe-pads hands. They also like to leave broken bits of hickory nut shells all over the front steps, which feels like walking on Legos when one steps on them in sock or bare feet.

    Fuckers. Cute, but fuckers nonetheless.

    Apparently squirrels can also spread Leptospirosis and Tularemia. Those sound super fun!