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Regarding the so called "death dance" of squirrels

May 27 2012 at 9:52 AM
karlw  (Login karlw)

I was looking at the video further down in the thread titled, "cat got my squirrel" and the poster mentions the "death dance" that is observed in the video. He says that the squirrel is "dead" and that the "dance" is just the squirrels nerves going crazy for awhile.

I'm not so sure of that. Seriously, I'm not criticizing his post at all, or the fact that the squirrel didn't die instantly, because a lot of times, they simply don't. I know that.

But, I'm of the opinion that the squirrel in that video was very much alive, for that entire time period after being shot. I don't think he was dead and his nerves were just flopping him around.

I've experienced this type of thing with squirrels myself.

I just think that squirrels are really tough and tenacious little critters and that they can really cling to life unless you hit them in the brain or get a really solid heart/lung shot.

My question to you all is simply whether you "buy in" to the idea that when you witness the so-called "death dance" that you are simply watching a dead squirrel flop around due to it's nervous system still being active somehow. Or, do you agree with me that the squirrel is very much alive and just clinging to life for those last 30 seconds, etc?

Again, I'm not criticizing the poster at all.

But, what is your take on the "death dance?" Nerves? Or just one heck of a tough animal to kill quickly?

This message has been edited by karlw on May 27, 2012 9:54 AM

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Brad (Puyallup, WA)
(Login fwbgbs)

I'd go with nerves

May 27 2012, 10:11 AM 

Not to take anything away from Mr. squirrel. They can certainly be resilient pellet quarry.

A chicken will do the same dance following complete Denogginization.


This message has been edited by fwbgbs on May 27, 2012 10:15 AM

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A.O. Martinez
(Login aom22)

When I was a Kid ... A Sunday Chicken Dinner ... Was Started on Late Saturday Afternoon

May 27 2012, 11:18 AM 

When I was a kid in Edinburgh Texas, on Sundays we usually had chicken.
As such, one of my duties and responsibilities was to assist in the capture
and killing of a rooster or hen on Saturday.
Usually, this was the last chore of the day after feeding the chickens.

After my grandmother selected the right chicken ... I had to catch it.
Not always an easy task.
After I caught the unlucky bird, I would hand it over to my grandmother - to kill.
Sometimes, she would wring the chicken's neck.
But, every once in a while she'd dispatch me to retrieve a small hatchet
to chop-off the chicken's head.

Either way, I soon was able to expect ... what was to happen ... with either process.
After wringing the neck ... the chicken would fall to the ground in a pile
and flap its wings while the its head flopped around.
After having it's head cut-off ... a chicken might would run around in circles,
sometimes in a straight line - then, they'd fall-over.
Either way, whatever method ... what was to follow .. was predictable.

It became apparent to me, the killed chickens were not instantaneously dead.
They were in the act of dying - the brain was no-longer in control of the body.
Most certainly in the case of the decapitated chicken ... what followed was latent nervous activity.

This message has been edited by aom22 on May 27, 2012 7:46 PM

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Willam Slater
(Login WJS)

Same type of experience...

May 27 2012, 2:56 PM 

Same kind of thing.  When I was a kid my Grandfather had a chicken coop.  For Sunday diner he would take a chicken out behind it where there was a stump & axe.  Whack, the head would come off and it would run around in cirlces for a little bit and fall over.  I'd bring it to my Grandmother who would pluck, gut & clean it.  After diner she would take all the bones & leftovers and make soup or chicken stock.


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Darrin Simon
(Login AirheadGunner)

Didn't see that video

May 27 2012, 10:17 AM 

But if it was moving then it was still alive, but dying. 1 of the ones I shot yesterday was a clean headshot with a JSB heavy out of my .22 Disco. He hung upside down from the branch for 4 minutes before he fell, he was just sort of convulsing for a few seconds and that is nerves for sure.
Went again this AM and didn't see a single squirrel??? I guess they figured out I am getting a bit better with my aim now!

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(Login kgphotos)

Even though they are still moving about I believe that

May 27 2012, 10:30 AM 

they are incapacited and no longer in control of their actions. I have watched head shot ground squirrels dance around like that for several seconds right above their own hole and never even try to go down and escape. I even shot one a couple months back that was just sticking his head above his hole. At the shot he tensed up for a couple seconds then pushed himself out of his hole and began the "death dance". So technically they are still living but I think that their movement is just involuntary muscle reactions.

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(Login bam5166)

its dead.....

May 27 2012, 10:32 AM 

When we shoot ground squirrels with 22 rimfires, all the ones that were head shot would do the "death dance" They wouldn't flop around if shot any where else........

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(Login CalG)

As mentioned, "Running around like a chicken with it's head cut off"

May 27 2012, 10:55 AM 

A common phrase used by my grandmother,

I sort of got used to it after the first hundred heads were piled by the chopping block, chicken bodies strewn about the yard where they "ran out of gas".

Not Kosher, that's for sure wink.gif

This message has been edited by CalG on May 27, 2012 10:56 AM

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Jim Ramsey
(Login astroman-3-2-1)

Go to 21:51 of this video....

May 27 2012, 10:58 AM 


You'll see quite a death dance.......with the brain completely gone! I think missing a brain qualifies as "dead." - LOL!


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(Login ddoug85)

IMO Movement and whatever else

May 27 2012, 11:18 AM 

that might still be functioning in the body qualifies the squirrel as being alive. Is it suffering or feel pain during the "death dance"? Who knows, we can't possibly answer that without knowing if either the brain or spinal cord was completely destroyed.

This message has been edited by ddoug85 on May 27, 2012 11:27 AM

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(Login VarmintAir)

After hunting ground squirrels for over 50+

May 27 2012, 11:27 AM 

years, I can tell you that the "death dance" is a dead give away, pun intended, that you've made a clean brain shot. I've seen it thousands of times over a 50 year period. California Ground Squirrels especially, when brain shot, are prone to do that. I have completely removed the heads of ground squirrels, with a high velocity PB round like the .220 Swift, and with everything from the shoulders up missing, they will still do the "death dance" for ten seconds. It may still be moving uncontrollably, but no head and no brain = dead squirrel.

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(Login gubb33ps)

The "brain dead boogie"

May 27 2012, 12:05 PM 

Will do it with a disconnected central nervous system...body just running on refelxive impulses. Even with high powered CFs that completely decapitate.

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(Login VarmintAir)

AKA the "funky chicken," or

May 27 2012, 12:59 PM 

"break dancing." The end result was always the same.

This message has been edited by VarmintAir on May 27, 2012 1:00 PM

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(Login Tofazfou)

+2 with VA. I've done it on GS' and Jack Rabbits. They

May 27 2012, 3:50 PM 

all flop. And yes, they are dead

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scot laughlin
(Login classicalgas)

Docttors sign a death certificate when brain functions have ceased for some period of time

May 27 2012, 4:50 PM 

even if the heart and lungs can be kept functioning artificially. I think having most of the brain removed qualifies as brain dead....it's certainly a quicker death than a predator offers, tearing the animal apart with the brain still attached and functioning.

Through the scope I've watched skull and brain fragments blown out of the back of a ground squirrels skull(25 ft/lb .22)and still seen the GS flop around, sometimes back into the hole.

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Re: After hunting ground squirrels for over 50+

May 28 2012, 7:41 AM 

I have seen numerous single hits to the area between the ear and shoulder that resulted with instant drops without any movements at all except dropping like a potato. 


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(Login Mike17670)


May 28 2012, 12:40 PM 

I hunt California Ground Squirrels like you for about the same time, and most head shot squirrels will do the "Death Dance". Hit then in the neck on the spine and they are down. Good lung shots or abdomen you might see the "Helicopter Tail", always amusing. Pink vapor, well that's a 22-250 at 4000 fps!


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Dirt Dawg
(Login dirtdawg2)

Zombie squirrel

May 27 2012, 12:15 PM 

Get your Zombie ammo ready!

Nuthin but sporadic impulses in the noggin

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(Login RogerV55)

The squirrel is definitely Alive

May 27 2012, 1:27 PM 

This is part of hunting that folks have a hard time excepting for there own reasons. I have no problem with the fact that killing animals with a Bow, Airgun or power burner is not instantaneous.

Over the last 45 years I've killed many animals with a Bow and always had to track the blood trail to recover them. Bow hunters except the fact that there are no Bang Dead shots. I don't understand why airgun hunters have so much trouble with this, could be they don't wont to for fear of reparation.

Hunting is what it is, it gets messy and things die, some faster than others. The fact is if you hit a animal with a small caliber low power .177 pellet and expect it to die instantly you're fooling yourself.


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Joe B.
(Login arrowking)

That's an interesting thought.

May 27 2012, 2:10 PM 

If the brain is essentially destroyed is it still alive? They cannot operate without a brain, so what would it be called if it is still "alive"?


So close, yet so far away...

My YouTube Channel:http://www.youtube.com/user/animalguy05?feature=mhee

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