More than 60 years of driving back country roads has led me to the conclusion that Henry Ford has had a significant impact on the squirrel gene pool. I came to this conclusion about a year or two ago and have been casually making observations to confirm my suspicions.
While my study has been anything but scientific, I feel confident enough to voice it now, in the hope that others may chime in and either confirm or refute my conclusions. My line of thinking goes something like this.
Henry Ford’s Model T and more specifically, the development the assembly line for automobiles, made cars available to the masses. This led to a chain reaction of events including an explosion in the number of cars on the road, improvement of roads and highways, increases in speed and horsepower, and an undeclared and somewhat unnoticed war on squirrels and other critters, including the chicken crossing the road.
The term road kill entered our vocabulary, as did the term, nutty as a squirrel. It seems obvious that term came into being because of their love for acorns and the way they behaved while trying to get across the road and avoid the on-coming traffic. Their indecisive back and forth method of getting to the other side became the butt of many a joke. If squirrels had a lobby, they would probably be seeking a more politically correct term.
Think about it for a minute and pay close attention the next time you see one on the side of the road. I’ve noticed that a good number of squirrels making it across the road without the expected back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. In fact, a significant number of them make it in a single dash.
Once upon a time the squirrel population was dominated by squirrels that had a gene that caused indecisive road crossing. However, a small number of squirrels lacked this gene and when crossing the road, they did it in a decisive manner. As indecisive squirrels became road kill, the decisive squirrel population grew. Today, there are enough decisive squirrels in the population for us to take notice. It’s a case of survival of the fittest and natural selection, though automobile is hardly a force of nature. It's actually more akin to the evolution of the peppered moth.
Now before you start ridiculing my theory, I know that this is a gross over simplification of natural selection, and much of this is written with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. However, I ask you think about this the next time you see a squirrel trying to cross the road. Is my observation about their behavior accurate, or am I as nutty as our furry friends?
On second thought, just answer the former question. If you know me, we already know the answer to the latter.